South Africa to Boost Warning Systems as Drought Cuts Corn

South Africa, the continent’s largest corn producer, said it will make its emergency weather warning systems more credible for farmers after drought reduced the country’s white harvest.

“Our first priority is to have early-warning systems for farmers and to get them to respect” the forecasts, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said yesterday. “We warned farmers the drought was imminent but if they doubt the credibility of the information then they’re not going to do anything.”

The harvest of white corn, used to make one of the country’s staple foods, fell 20 percent in the year ended April to the smallest since the 2007 season after a drought in the main growing provinces, the Crop Estimates Committee said on Nov. 29.

Grain SA, the nation’s biggest representative of commercial farmers, said prices may surge as much as 27 percent should the North West province not get enough rain for farmers to plant crops by Dec. 15. The government of the region, which produced a third of the country’s white corn in 2012, declared a drought in September.

The state provided 43 million rand ($4.1 million) in a “first tranche” of drought aid to the North West, Joemat-Pettersson said. The government is also concerned about a lack of rain in the Northern Cape, where table grapes are grown for export, and in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, where sugar cane is harvested, she said.

‘Too Long’

With more than 23,000 farmers having applied for assistance, the money is “completely ineffectual,” Johannes Moller, president of growers’ body AgriSA, told the Cape Town Press Club Nov. 29. Farmers’ organizations sought 400 million rand in drought aid.

“We’re still concerned it’s taking too long,” Joemat-Pettersson said. “By the time the assistance gets to farmers, the situation is already out of control.”

White-corn futures have climbed 25 percent in Johannesburg this year. They rose 1.6 percent to 2,664 rand by the close today. Contracts for the yellow variety have increased 17 percent this year to 2,615 rand.

South Africa is the world’s biggest exporter of whole oranges and grapefruit, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s also the continent’s largest exporter of table grapes. Agriculture makes up about 2.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, government data show.

The country, which the government says is the world’s 30th-driest nation, consumes 98 percent of the water it treats and forecasts demand will outstrip supply “between 2025 and 2030,” according to National Treasury projections.

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