Maize was South Africa’s fifth-largest exported agricultural product in value terms in 2020. It trailed citrus, grapes, wine and apples, which were the top four products in the overall US$10,2 billion worth of South Africa’s agricultural products exported last year. The total agricultural export earnings in 2020 were the second largest on record in value terms. The export markets were quite diverse, nearly half spread across the African continent, and third, in the European Union and the rest spread across Asia and the Americas regions.

For maize, Zimbabwe was the most dominant export market for South Africa. In the 2,6 million tonnes of maize that South Africa exported within the 2020/21 marketing year, which started in May 2020 and ended in April 2021, about 20% of the volume went to Zimbabwe. This made Zimbabwe the single largest maize export market for South Africa in the 2020/21 marketing year. Other notable export markets were Taiwan, South Korea, Botswana, Vietnam and Japan, amongst others.

It is this significance of Zimbabwe as a market for South Africa’s maize exports that makes last week’s announcement by Zimbabwean authorities to suspend all maize and maize meal imports with immediate effect consequential. This suspension of imports comes as the country approaches its maize harvest period. According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the domestic crop could reach 2,7 million tonnes, the largest harvest since 1984. The views from local analysts generally concur with the USDA’s forecast that Zimbabwe is likely to have good maize and a strong overall agricultural season. The expected large maize output is primarily supported by the expansion in the area planted, coupled with favourable rainfall since the start of the season. Importantly, Zimbabwe will have the largest maize surplus in nearly three decades, as its annual maize consumption is between 1,8 and 2,0 million tonnes, against the aforementioned crop of 2,7 million tonnes.

South Africa, which benefited from the Zimbabwean maize demand in the recent past, could have 2,8 million tonnes of maize surplus available for export markets. This would be the largest volume since 1994/95, when South Africa exported 4,7 million tonnes of maize, according to data from the South African Grain Information Services (SAGIS). These available maize export volumes are on the back of a large forecast harvest, which we at Agbiz currently forecast to be 16,7 million tonnes. This would be the second-largest maize harvest on record. With Zimbabwe as a potential export market out of the picture, and various regional maize producing and consuming countries in the Southern Africa region, such as Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique, expecting large harvests, regional demand for maize will be weaker than usual. The consistent markets that South Africa will likely have are the Far East markets, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.

You can read the full article by clicking here (paywall). The article was written for and first published on Fin24


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

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