Lesotho + 3 more

Southern Africa: Regions breadbasket urged to watch exports

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JOHANNESBURG, 23 May (IRIN) - South Africa, the breadbasket of a region hard hit by food shortages, could find itself unable to meet domestic needs should exports to neighbours outstrip reserves.
The estimated regional maize deficit stands at 3.3 million mt for the year. South Africa's department of agriculture adjusted its estimate of the yield from its domestic maize crop from 8.5 million mt to 8.59 million mt.

The 91,925 mt increase was "based on weather conditions, as well as information supplied by a consortium that was appointed to develop an improved crop forecasting system", it said in a statement.

But it's an estimation the commercial grain producers, Grain SA, have called "overly optimistic", and warned could result in too much maize being exported, leaving less than the required amount for domestic consumption.

Grain SA's Bully Botma said: "More than 400,000 hectares were planted during December/January. We had unexpected early frost, on 29 March, and that has not been taken into account [in the estimate]. Some of the [crops] currently being harvested are yielding up to 30 percent less than estimated.

"If you talk to the insurance people they say damage from hail and frost is way above normal."

While there was no immediate danger of a shortfall in meeting domestic requirements, Botma pointed out that South Africa had already imported significant quantities of maize (280,000 mt) from the European Union and US markets for domestic consumption. "That maize is of inferior quality compared with South African grain, which the markets are prepared to pay premium for. At the rate we are exporting we will most certainly run into deficit ourselves," Botma said.

He also pointed out that there was as yet no certainty regarding carryover stock (maize left over from last season).

However, the chairman of the crop estimates committee, Rodney Dredge, disagreed: "Early plantings are actually producing very good yields. Our domestic requirements are about 7.8 million mt per year. The crop forecast is almost 8.6 million mt, then there's carryover stocks from the previous season of about 500,000 mt and imports of about 250,000 mt. That gives us about 9.3 million mt."

He said domestic requirement included the "normal exports to the BLNS countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland)".

"We'll definitely have enough for domestic consumption. The new maize season started on 1 May and I think our exports into Africa so far this season is about 40,000 mt," Dredge said.

Maize was being purchased at over R1,600 per mt (US $160). He said reports exaggerating the shortfall or surplus would affect what the free market was prepared to pay for the product, and cautioned against this.

"In the SADC region we expect a deficit of about 3.3 million mt. South Africa obviously won't be able to meet that sort of deficit but we will be able to supply a relatively small amount of maize. If you look at the figures [it's clear] we could supply 400 to 500,000 mt, [exporting] beyond that would mean we would have to import to meet domestic requirements," Dredge said.

[ENDS]

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