Grain body says South Africa may need to import 5 mln tonnes of maize
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa may need to import as much as 5 million tonnes of maize this year, roughly half of its requirements, because of its worst drought in three decades, the country's largest producer group said on Wednesday.
The drought in the continent's biggest maize producer has been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern and follows dry spells last year that reduced the crop by a third to 9.94 million tonnes, the lowest since 2007.
"We can now, with a lot of confidence, say we are in a disaster in the maize belt," Jannie de Villiers, Chief Executive of Grain SA, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"We will be lucky if we produce 5 million tonnes this year and then we will need to import 5 million tonnes. This is the sort of scenario that we are looking at."
That would raise practical problems of who can supply the required commodity and whether South Africa is able to handle such a large volume of imports.
South Africa's central bank, which has been raising interest rates, has expressed concern about the impact of the drought and food price pressures on inflation in Africa's most advanced economy.
Industry estimates at this stage remain fairly rough and previous predictions were for import needs ranging from 700,000 to 4 million tonnes. But the predictions have increased the longer the drought has gone on.