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Southern Africa’s maize production to slump

Maize production in Southern Africa for the 2014/15 harvest is expected to slump by nearly a third, driving up food prices in the region. According to the FAO, total maize outturn in the region—South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Lesotho — will fall by 29 percent to 18.3 million tonnes, 20 percent below the five-year average.

The slump reflects downturns in maize output by all producers, owing to erratic weather including late rains, followed by heavy rainfall that caused flooding in some countries, and by dry weather in southern countries. Zimbabwe has been the worst affected, with its 2014/15 crop expected to plummet by 49 percent, while output will be badly hit in South Africa (35 percent), Lesotho (28 percent), Malawi (26 percent), Zambia and Swaziland (20 percent), but Mozambique will be relatively unscathed (5 percent).

Deficits across the region should be mitigated by large stocks, estimated at 2-3 million tonnes, resulting from last year’s bumper crop. However, there will be a shift in regional maize flows as South Africa will prioritise exports to Rand-zone neighbours and Botswana, while Zambia will likely ship maize to Zimbabwe and Malawi. However, given mounting concerns over production cuts, Zambia might revise its 800,000 tonne commitment to exports after the completion of a government crop survey this month. A reduction in Zambia’s exports would particularly squeeze famine-prone Zimbabwe, which has already announced that it will import 700,000 tonnes of maize this year. Imports are also expected to rise in the 2015/16 season, reaching an estimated 1.8mn tonnes, double the imports in 2015/16.

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