Business Maverick

CROP ESTIMATES COMMITTEE

SA trims maize output forecast as outlook worsens north of Limpopo in El Niño’s wake

SA trims maize output forecast as outlook worsens north of Limpopo in El Niño’s wake

South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee slightly lowered its forecast for maize production for this season, but the country should have enough to meet domestic demand. Worryingly, the already bleak outlook in neighbouring countries is worsening.

In its fourth production estimate for the 2024 summer crop season, the Crop Estimates Committee slightly reduced the outlook from its third forecast. 

The bottom line is that because of the heatwaves linked to the El Niño weather pattern, white maize production is down 25.4% compared with last season at a little over 6.43 million tonnes, while the overall crop is 19% lower at just over 13.3 million tonnes. 

Compared with the third estimate, the fourth forecast for white maize was whittled down by 1%. 

Because of carry-over stocks, South Africa should have enough of the staple white maize to meet its domestic consumption needs – which is critical for food security as it is the caloric staple for lower-income households. 

“… this harvest would meet South Africa’s annual maize consumption of roughly 12 million tonnes, leaving the country with over a million tonnes for exports,” Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber, said in a note on the data. 

Maize futures prices have also moderated recently, in part because of gains in the rand as pre-election jitters have ebbed. 

Still, white maize prices are 30% higher than they were a year ago and prices for yellow maize – mostly used for animal feed – are up 7% over the same timeframe, which points to pressures in the price pipeline at a time when food inflation has been easing. 

In the wake of El Niño, South Africa is in a much better position than its neighbours, where the drought took a bigger toll in more tropical latitudes and farming remains far less commercial, mechanised and productive.

Zimbabwe’s government said this week that nine million people – over half of its population – will need food aid until at least March next year after a catastrophic failure of its crops. 

It has appealed for $3.3-billion in aid to feed its long-suffering population. 

Read more here: Drought-hit Zimbabwe raises aid appeal to 3.3bn USD – Xinhua

Zambia and Malawi are also reeling from their worst drought in decades, leaving millions of subsistence farmers hungry. 

The latest El Niño has faded and its polar opposite, La Niña, is expected to form by September if not before. El Niño typically heralds drought in this region while La Niña usually brings good rains.

But next summer’s maize harvest will only be reaped in a year’s time, and so the region looks set for a prolonged period of hunger and food insecurity. DM 

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