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Southern Africa: Harvest declines, but no drastic price hikes

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JOHANNESBURG, 28 March (IRIN) - The prices of staple grain products in southern Africa were unlikely to be drastically affected by the impact of floods and drought on crops in the region, analysts told IRIN on Wednesday.
Kit LeClus, manager of marketing and research development at Grain SA, a commercial grain producers' body, said adverse weather conditions had affected crops throughout the region, but that there would be no "famine or catastrophe". "It will be tight. Relief will be needed, but in the region as a whole we believe that Zimbabwe will have a shortfall of about 300,000 mt and that Tanzania and Kenya together will need about 100,000 mt of grains," he said. He added, however, that different states had been differently affected and that some might experience more serious shortages.

Liliana Balbi, southern Africa country officer for the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation, also told IRIN that conditions in different states varied. She said that South Africa and Malawi were expected to experience a reduction in exports this season while Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia would have to increase their imports sharply. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland had bad harvests last year, and were expecting no better this year, she said, meaning that they would have to import the same quantity of grains as last year - or more.

Angola would once again have to import grains and rely heavily on international aid, Balbi said, while Mozambique's national crops, despite some losses, were not believed to be severely affected by drought and floods.

All the analysts who spoke to IRIN said it was still too early to determine exactly what crop quantities the region - and its individual states - would yield. An international grain trader based in South Africa said the degree of grain shortages in southern Africa and the eventual impact this would have on households would depend on foreign aid and the buying capability of individual states. He said the average price of grains was about US $81 per mt last year and was expected to be about US $94 per mt this year.

In its monthly report released on 16 March, the SADC's Regional Early Warning Unit (REWU) said that while preliminary forecasts were yet to be made in most states, indications were that there would be a 26 percent decline in the 2000/2001 SADC maize harvest to between 14.45 and 15.10 million mt compared with last season's above average production of 20.10 million mt.

"The decline is attributed to reduced plantings in South Africa and Zimbabwe, excessive rains and flooding in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, while a devastasting mid-season dry spell affected several other countries," the report said.

Floods have ruined over 30,000 hectares of cropland and displaced about 400,000 people in Mozambique. About 335,000 people have been affected by flooding in parts of Malawi, and storms and heavy rains have also taken their toll in eastern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe.

In its overview, the unit said: "Indications are that a regional maize deficit/import reqirement of between 2.10 million mt is in prospect for the 2001/2002 marketing year, as compared to a regional surplus of 1.71 million mt in the 2000/2001 marketing year. Only Malawi and South Africa are projected as showing domestic maize surpluses in the 2001/2002 marketing year."

LeClus, however, claimed that many researchers and analysts believed the crops could be bigger than official estimates, but that the situation would become clearer in the next few months as each country completed its harvesting season.

He also said that end-consumers would not suffer large staple-food price increases. Among the reasons for this, he said, was that some governments - like Zimbabwe - subsidised prices. Also, millers, who produced cereal products, could not vary their prices daily to keep up with fluctuating prices on the market. This, he said, meant that millers would face some pressure, but would alleviate some of it by forward-buying when cereal prices were low.

"All in all," he said, "regarding food security, there isn't sufficient, but there isn't a starvation situation".

For the latest SADC report, please see: http://www.sadc-fanr.org.zw/rewu/fsmb/fsmb.htm

For the latest FAO report, please see: http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo/economic/giews/english/alertes/2001/SRSAF 01.htm

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IRIN-SA - Tel: +27-11 880 4633 Fax: +27-11 447 5472 Email: irin-sa@irin.org.za

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