Southern Africa is headed for a major crisis that would see food prices skyrocket and leave thousands of people without food in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. A recent report by the UN Food and Nutrition Security Working Group has warned of the worst drought in key crop producing centres since 1992. Supply deficit
The report claimed that the region’s maize production belt had been hampered by a drought since February and that lower maize output posed a serious cause for concern as it would result in supply deficit in the grain, which is a staple food for most citizens and a key input in the production of red meat, poultry, eggs and milk.
“The expected commercial maize crop for 2015 is estimated at 9.84 million tons, which is 31 percent less than last year and 20 percent below the average maize production for the last five years,” the report said. “This decline has led to an overall (food price) increase of 6.4 percent in South Africa and to even higher increases in the main staple crop maize. In addition to maize, sunflower and sorghum have also been negatively affected.” The report said more than 80 000 people in Swaziland would be hit by crop failure. It said that while Lesotho’s production and vulnerability figures would only be available this month, the country’s food outlook was worrying.
According to the report, Zimbabwe would experience a 49 percent deficit, which would force the government to import 700 tons of white maize. “As more households in the north increase their reliance on market purchases later in the consumption period, prices are likely to increase atypically from July to September,” the report warned. In South Africa, Grain SA yesterday lowered its maize output forecast for the year by almost 1 percent to 9.755 million tons, citing the slow pace of deliveries from the field.
Grain SA chief executive Jannie de Villiers said the current shortage of maize in the country would harm production as most farmers would not want to waste their resources on a harvest that would not meet production costs. De Villiers said the hardest hit would be the poor who depend on maize for their food and livestock feed. “What it means is that we do not have maize that can take care of our needs and this would drive prices for the better part of the year,” he said.
Ripple effects
Red Meat Producers Organisation chief executive Gerhard Schutte said a large contingent of their members had already seen their stock dying as a result of the drought, particularly among developing stock breeders. Schutte said that while established farmers could factor in the price, small farmers did not have the resources to do so. “The next season will take us to a potential crisis as we start feeling the effects of the drought,” Schutte said. “The supply side is not yet critical but we should be looking at more problems if the situation does not turn around.” SA Poultry Association chief executive Kevin Lovell said higher maize prices would have a ripple effect on the price of poultry and eggs. “The input costs have risen and we have already seen a move in our feed costs and producers would have to increase their prices if they are to maintain profitability,” Lovell said.