South Africa is set to be a net importer of maize for the first time in seven years as the drought wreaks havoc throughout the country.
Farmer body GrainSA this week said the drought had already caused the industry to lose nearly R12 billion as maize production decreased from 14.3 million tons last year to a mere 9.9 million tons.
GrainSA economist Wandile Sihlobo said that the decrease had forced the country to import 770 000 tons of maize at a cost of R2.2bn.
Sihlobo said that the situation was more dire in the country’s eastern and western regions, which include KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West provinces.
Sihlobo said the real effects of the drought would be felt in the next harvest as the planting season was in full swing.
“The concerns are much more about the new crop that we are supposed to be planting, but there is still time, particularly on the western side of the country to plant if we get sufficient rains in the next few weeks,” Sihlobo said.
“But weather forecasts are showing a dry outlook for the next 10 days and that’s very concerning.”
Last week, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said the government had allocated R96 million for water tankers, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and earmarked a further R352m for initial drought interventions.
But on Friday, AgriSA said the late summer rains and high day-time temperatures after a dry previous season had resulted in a serious situation for both farmers and other role players in the food value chain who depended on agriculture’s purchase and supply capacity.
AgriSA executive director Omri van Zyl said that the industry was facing dire challenges which could not be successfully addressed without government support.
“Penetrating rains will be required to reduce the risk, especially for cropping farmers,” Van Zyl said.
“The need for stock feed is increasing rapidly.”
GrainSA said in 2014 South Africa was a net exporter of maize with about 2 million tons sold to overseas markets and earning the (agriculture) industry nearly R6.5bn.
This week organised agriculture called for more government intervention to protect the industry from total collapse.
The industry’s lobby group, AgriSA, said that the government needed to upscale its fodder feed to livestock farmers as many cattle and fields lay in ruin as a result of the lack of rain.
AgriSA economist Thabi Nkosi said most farmers in the drought-ravaged regions had taken strain and their ability to meet their credit obligations to borrowers remained slim.
“Many farmers are facing serious financial strain and some have been unable to meet their repayment obligations to banks; this affects their ability to get credit in the coming season,” said Nkosi.
“Interventions focusing on improving their creditworthiness and reducing the cost of credit are key.”
Nkosi added that the weakening of the rand against the dollar had made maize imports even more expensive.