Business Maverick

CLIMATE CRISIS

CEC raises SA’s 2024 maize forecast slightly — still down 19% on El Niño

CEC raises SA’s 2024 maize forecast slightly — still down 19% on El Niño

South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee has slightly raised its forecast for the 2024 maize forecast. But it is still seen 19% lower than last year because of the heat waves triggered by  El Niño, which has thankfully faded. 

Compared to its March forecast for summer crops, the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) raised its forecast for the maize harvest by 1% to almost 13.4 million tonnes. And for the staple white maize, it upped its prediction by 2% to just over 6.4 million tonnes.

The best that can be said is that it is not as bad as some observers had expected. The white maize harvest is still expected to be 25% lower than last year’s, and yellow maize — mostly used for animal feed — is seen 13% lower. Overall the crop is seen 19% lower.

“… this is not a cause for celebration,” Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber, pointedly noted in a commentary on the data.

“The figure does not change the reality that we have been through a challenging season of El Niño-induced drought and heatwave in February and March that weighed on the summer grains and oilseed harvest in various regions of the country.”

If the forecast proves accurate, it at least means that South Africa should have enough maize to meet its annual consumption of around 12 million tonnes, with a bit to spare for exports.

But it’s walking a tightrope and does not have nearly enough to export to meet the needs of countries in the region such as Zimbabwe and Zambia. They face serious shortages in the wake of El Niño — which typically heralds drought in this region — that have left millions facing the grim prospect of rising hunger.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dying crops, food and water shortages — drought affects millions in southern Africa

In South Africa, the expectations of a significantly smaller harvest have pushed white maize futures prices up 56% over the past 12 months, a trend that will fuel food inflation in the coming months just as it was cooling. That’s one of the reasons why South African interest rates are unlikely to be cut this year.

But the slight upward revision to the forecast should at least curb that trend. If the CEC had cut its forecast further, prices would almost certainly have risen considerably in response.

The latest El Niño event, triggered by a warming of surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific, ended earlier this month. And the forecasts generally call for it to be replaced in coming months with its opposite La Niña, which generally brings drenching rains to Southern Africa.

Read more in Daily Maverick: El Niño has ended but the full wrath of its economic and social impact is still to come

Both systems are made more extreme by human-made climate change, and the effects of the latest El Niño will continue to take a toll on Southern Africa for many more months, and perhaps longer. DM

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