Drought forcing Africa’s top maize producer to urgently import 6m tonnes

Africa’s second highest maize producer South Africa will import up to 6 million tonnes of the staple this year as drought affects local production.

The southern African nation’s agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana said on Friday, that the need for imports was “urgent”.

South Africa is suffering its worst drought in more than two decades. The condition brought by strengthening El Nino weather pattern is wreaking havoc in the country. Water restrictions have been introduced in several parts of the country as water levels reduce over the past months. In Cape Town, watering gardens with drinking water from municipal supply is allowed only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for a maximum of an hour per premises either before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. In Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Ekurhuleni municipality in the eastern Gauteng province, residents can’t use hosepipes or sprinklers from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The South African Weather Service said in a report on its website last year, that dry conditions may continue until February and into autumn. November – February is normally the period of highest rainfall.

Most maize production in Africa is rain fed. Irregular rainfall can, therefore, trigger famines during droughts. More than 500,000 people in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal are facing severe hunger as a result of the drought, according to humanitarian organization,  World Vision.

It is estimated that South Africa’s maize crop was just 5 million tons in 2015, compared to 10 million tons in 2014 and 14 million tons the year before.

“There’s white maize coming in from Mexico, and yellow maize from South America, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay. So there’s quite a lot of maize coming in through the ports of Durban, East London, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth,” Annatjie Loio, president of the Grain Handling Organisation of Southern Africa told CCTV.