South Africa imports maize as stocks slump to nine-month low

A young child chews on a white maize cob. Stocks in South Africa have declined due to drought. (AFP)

A young child chews on a white maize cob. Stocks in South Africa have declined due to drought. (AFP)

South Africa is importing yellow maize for the first time in 22 months as stocks of the grain declined to a nine-month low in January, agri-business Senwes has said.

Stockpiles of both white and yellow maize declined 31% to 2.34-million metric tonnes, the lowest since April, at the end of last month from a year earlier, Pretoria-based South African Grain Information Service (Sagis) said in a statement on its website on Monday. The country had 946 076 tonnes of yellow maize, the smallest amount in nine months, and 1.39-million tonnes of white, according to the information service.

Local prices of both varieties rose to a record last month as drought in some growing regions curbed output. Grain SA, which represents commercial farmers, said in January that stocks would be tight for the rest of the season, until the harvest begins in April.
Tiger Brands, the biggest South African food company, said last month it would consider importing maize in the event of a supply shortage.

"We need to import," Thys Grobbelaar, an analyst at Klerksdorp, South Africa-based Senwes, said by phone. "About three ships from the Black Sea are on their way with about 50 000 tonnes of yellow maize," he said.

The country, which is the continent's biggest maize producer, last imported the white variety, used to make pap, in October 2012. It last brought in the yellow type, which is mainly fed to animals locally, in April that year, according to Sagis data.

Import Difficulty
White maize comprises only about 13% of global output, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. This makes it difficult to import. Southern African nations' preference for this type of the grain means the region is less likely to take advantage of a slump in global prices spurred by record harvests of maize, mainly yellow, from the US to Brazil.

"It will be impossible to import from Africa," Grobbelaar said. "There is no place where we can import white maize from."

White maize for delivery in July dropped 3.7% or the R80 daily limit to R2 086 a tonne by the close in Johannesburg trading. The yellow variety for delivery in the same month fell 3.1% to R2 169 a tonne. – Bloomberg

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