May 26, 2016 / 1:48 PM / 3 years ago

South Africa's crop committee raises 2016 maize forecast

A hawker prepares a cob of corn at his makeshift shop in Soweto, January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will likely harvest 7.16 million tonnes of maize in 2016, 28 percent less than the 9.95 million tonnes reaped last year because of drought and late plantings, a government agency said on Thursday.

But the forecast harvest by the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC), its fifth of this season, was 1.5 percent higher than its previous estimate and was 3.8 percent higher than a Reuters’ poll of traders and market analysts.

CEC analyst Marda Scheepers said the reason for the increase was that an analysis of fields in the Free State and North West provinces revealed that yields there were better than previously expected.

The crop will comprise an estimated 3.097 million tonnes of white maize and 4.063 million tonnes of yellow, the CEC said.

White Maize, the variety used for human consumption, doubled in price last year helping to fuel inflation after South Africa in 2015 experienced its lowest rainfall levels since records began in 1904.

The July white maize contract closed 0.95 percent higher on Thursday at 5,087 rand a tonne, within striking distance of its historic peak of almost 5,400 rand a tonne scaled in January, according to Thomson Reuters’ data.

A powerful El Nino system and other weather patterns combined to trigger an historic drought in Southern Africa with an estimated 31.6 million people across the region struggling to feed themselves, the International Federation of Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies said.

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg and Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia

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