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It is a cloudy and humid afternoon in Nairobi. I am currently sitting in a small coffee shop at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in transit to Zanzibar where I will be participating in a conference about unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential through land reform, youth employment and markets. While I will be participating in the discussion and sharing the South African story – I am essentially on listening mode — trying to gather lessons that South Africa can draw from the experiences of our northern neighbours. More to say about this tomorrow if time permits for blogging.

Back on home soil – the key focus in the agricultural sector is the weather as we wait to see if the forecast rainfall within the next two weeks materialises. The past couple of weeks have proved fruitful for the eastern parts of the country and the enabled yellow maize and soybean planting to start on a sound footing. But the other provinces have not received good rainfall since the beginning of the season, hence crop planting activity have not started in these particular areas. The impact this has had on soil moisture is clear form Figure 1 below. 

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Figure 1: South Africa’s soil moisture
Source: World Weather Inc

Not to be alarmist, but it is worth highlighting that it is getting rather late in the planting season in the eastern parts of South Africa, particularly for the maize regions (Figure 2). Other crops can still be planted until December and early January in the case of sunflower seed. I am mentioning this because while the eastern regions received comparatively higher rainfall than the western areas, the rain was somewhat scattered – a clear example of this is the Free State (see Figure 1).

The western areas still have time to plant until early January 2019. So, if the estimated rainfall arrives within the next couple of weeks, farmers in these areas could commence with planting. But what I am somewhat concerned about is whether the intended area of roughly 4.22 million hectares of summer grains and oilseed will be achieved in the 2018/19 production season given the aforementioned weather dynamics. I don’t know! We will get a better sense of planted area later in January and that might force those of us who have published the production estimates of key crops to relook the data.

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Figure 2: South Africa’s maize optimal planting dates
Source: Grain SA, Agbiz Research

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Above all, South Africa still has fairly good grain supplies, so the above-mentioned production dynamics will have minimal implication on food prices in the near term. The best thing to do right now is just to keep an eye on the weather developments within the next couple of weeks and the implication thereafter on crops before making notable adjustments on your food inflation forecasts for next year.

Another point to make is that crop production is typically a key focus in my notes, although not a big contributor to the South African agricultural economy in terms of value added. Roughly 47 percent of the country’s agricultural gross value added is derived from the livestock sector. However, the growth of the livestock sector depends on field crops which play a key role as feed in the cattle, sheep, poultry, pig, and goat industries, etc. This partly explains my constant focus on crops.

OK, enough about our domestic agricultural conditions. I chose the coffee shop I am currently in because I wanted to enjoy some Kenyan coffee (with carrot cake) while in Kenya. So, I will stop here and do just that!


Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

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