File image: Reuters

Johannesburg - South Africa has started importing yellow maize, traders said on Monday, as huge export demand and local consumption deplete stocks before the next harvest.

It had been anticipated that South Africa would import maize before the end of the May 2013-April 2014 marketing season after it committed much of its harvest for exports.

“We have started (importing),” said Konrad Keyser of Brisen Commodities, adding they had a shipment of about 40,000 tonnes of yellow maize coming in from Ukraine.

“It should be here around 15/16 March.”

Yellow maize is mainly used for animal feed.

Another trader said he was aware of two boats coming in with about 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes each.

“We are not sure about the origin, but our guess it is from the Black Sea region,” the trader said.

South Africa had 1.390 million tonnes of white maize and 946,076 tonnes of yellow maize in stock at the end of January, industry data showed last month.

With some of the stock already booked for exports, South Africa is left with little for local consumption.

“The stock levels of both white and yellow maize are running dangerously low, with potentially very little or no pipeline storage left until harvesting of the new season commences,” the National Agricultural Marketing Council said in a note on Monday.

South Africa harvested 11.69 million tonnes of maize in 2013.

Low stocks and patchy rains in the last two years have helped drive the price of maize, the regional staple, to a record of over 3,300 rand per tonnes in early February.

Record maize prices combined with weakness in the rand currency is also seen pushing inflation higher in Africa's largest economy and could hurt poor households ahead of general elections on May 7. - Reuters