El Nino Pushes South Africa Corn Imports to Two-Decade High

  • Nation becomes net importer of corn first time since 2008
  • South Africa 2016 yellow-corn imports most since at least 2004

South Africa, the continent’s biggest producer of corn, became a net importer of the grain for the first time since 2008 this year, bringing in the most in two decades after the worst drought in more than a century hurt local output.

The nation imported 1.96 million metric tons of corn in the marketing year ended April 29, the Pretoria-based South African Grain Information Service said in a statement on its website. That’s the most since 1993. Exports were 683,523 tons, it said. 

QuickTake El Nino

South Africa last year had the least rainfall since records started in 1904, damaging crops and raising prices. It may need to import 3.8 million tons of yellow and white corn this year to bolster domestic supplies, according to Grain SA, the biggest lobby group for farmers of corn. White is used as to make a porridge known locally as pap and is more difficult to source internationally because the yellow variety is more widely grown overseas. In southern and eastern Africa, yellow is mainly fed to animals.

“The 2015-16 maize-import volumes show the seriousness of the effects of the current drought, not for the farming community alone, but for the entire South African economy,” Wandile Sihlobo, head economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber, said in an e-mailed response to questions, using another term for corn. “They have cost the country roughly 6.6 billion rand ($446 million).”

White corn for delivery in July rose for a second day, gaining 2.2 percent to 4,664 rand a metric ton, while yellow corn contracts for the same month fell 0.5 percent to 3,236 rand a ton by midday on the South African Futures Exchange in Johannesburg.

South Africa’s imports included 1.86 million tons of the yellow type, the most since at least 2004, and 96,932 tons of the white variety, the grain service said. Argentina was the biggest source of yellow corn at 1.12 million tons, while for white, Mexico was the largest supplier at 51,040 tons. Exports of white totaled 467,946 tons, while those of yellow were 215,577 tons.

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