South African Corn-Import Flood to Test Port Infrastructure

  • Country is experiencing its worst drought since 1992
  • More wheat and soy oilcake will also need to be imported

South Africa’s infrastructure may struggle to cope with the volume of corn imports required if a drought exacerbated by the El Nino weather phenomenon further decimates the local crop, the main growers’ association said. 

In the worst-case scenario, the nation will probably need to import as much as 4 million metric tons of corn, Reuters reported this week, citing Siyabonga Gama, the acting chief executive officer of state-owned ports and rail company Transnet SOC Ltd.

“The industry met yesterday to assess the collective import capacity if a disaster occurs,” Jannie de Villiers, CEO of the Grain SA farmers’ organization, said in an e-mailed response to questions on Wednesday. “From the initial discussions, it seems almost impossible to import 4 million tons of maize on top of the 1.9 million tons of wheat and about 0.5 million tons of soy oilcake”

The worst drought since 1992 means that growers in the continent’s biggest corn producer will probably sow the smallest area with the grain since 1992, the government’s Crop Estimates Committee said on Oct. 27. Since then, many parts of South Africa have experienced record temperatures and little rain.

The difficulty of getting adequate corn imports through the country’s ports could be worsened by the likely need of neighboring Zimbabwe to import 1 million tons to 2 million tons via South Africa, De Villiers said.

“If we have to import 4 million tons, it will be for the period May 1, 2016, to April 2017,” De Villiers said.

Farmers in corn-producing provinces of the Free State and North West still have until Dec. 31 to plant, according to De Villiers. The two regions accounted for 64 percent of the nation’s crop in 2014, the Crop Estimates Committee said.

White corn, which is used to make a staple food known as pap, has surged 80 percent this year while the yellow variety that’s mainly used as animal feed has climbed 58 percent.

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