ZIMBABWE is forecast to double maize imports this year after poor weather affected production in parts of the country while the region could also face shortages.
According to a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation yesterday, maize imports are seen nearly doubling in light of tight domestic supply.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister, Dr Joseph Made recently said they are still to conduct the second crop assessment to come up with accurate maize production data. However, Zimbabwe requires an estimated 1,8 million tonnes of maize for domestic consumption and livestock feeding requirements.
“In Zimbabwe, maize imports are forecast to nearly double; in anticipation of a tight domestic supply situation; the Government lifted the import ban earlier in the year, which was imposed in 2014,” FAO said in a statement released in Rome.
The report was prepared by the Global Information and Early Warning System of the Trade and Markets Division of FAO, an appendage of the United Nations. The forecast maize situation in Zimbabwe is, however, in tandem with the pattern anticipated across the entire Southern Africa region due to erratic rains this season.
Maize is the main component of the Southern African diet, accounting for, on average, about 25 percent of dietary energy intake and up to 50 percent in some countries. Zimbabwe is forecast to record the second biggest maize imports in the sub-region, after South Africa, far ahead of Angola, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi and Swaziland.
“Unfavourable rains in Zimbabwe, particularly in low producing regions of the south, resulted in a write-off of nearly 300 000 hectares, with the 2015 harvest preliminarily forecast at under 1 million tonnes, about one-third down on 2014,’’ FAO said.
Last year Zimbabwe produced about 1,4 million tonnes of maize up from the 958 000 tonnes that the country was able to produce in the previous season, 2013.
FAO said the bulk of increase in maize imports was expected from South Africa, provisionally forecast at 600 000 tonnes, mainly consisting of yellow maize used in the feed industry, compared to negligible volumes in the previous year.
Malawi might also increase maize imports to bolster national supplies. Larger import volumes are also forecast in deficit producing countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, which are normally reliant on South African grain.
Sharp decline in harvests within the sub-region are forecast for Namibia at -33 percent) and South Africa (-33 percent) compared to the good levels of 2014. Further, Malawi and Zambia, the second and third biggest maize producers of the sub-region, are expecting reduced outputs, although production in Zambia is expected to remain near average, sufficient to cover domestic requirements.
Lower harvests are also anticipated in Lesotho and Botswana. Flooding in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar caused severe localised damage to the agriculture sector, further dampening production prospects. Although the damage at national level was limited, the impact on local food supplies could be severe.
“Last year, the sub-region saw a bumper harvest, which has made this year’s harvest prospects look even weaker so we have to be cautious until governments, often with the support of FAO, have completed all the assessments in the coming days. FAO is closely monitoring the situation on the ground,” said David Phiri, FAO sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa.
The expected decline in maize production follows a favourable year in 2014, where ample supplies and low prices contributed to improved food security conditions.
Given contraction in South Africa’s export availabilities, alternative sources of export supplies may be needed. Within the sub-region, the out-turn in Zambia will be crucial as the surplus held in that country is estimated at 1 million tonnes.
With the expected decrease in production in the sub-region this year, the number of food insecure people may rise, reversing the strong gains recorded last year.
Cereal prices are already increasing in parts of the sub-region as a result of the poor production outlook. Significant price gains were observed in South Africa in February, although the increases eased in March partly reflecting improved rains.
Wholesale prices of maize increased by 30 percent in South Africa since the beginning of the year. Inflationary pressures are likely in importing countries, with Namibia already showing relatively large price increases during February.