The role of the South African and Zambian maize industries in the Southern and East African regions will remain significant in the 2020/21 marketing year which ends in April 2021.

Within the Southern Africa region, the recent data released by Zimbabwe’s ministry of lands and agriculture placed its 2019/20 maize harvest at 907 628 tons, up by 17% from the previous season. Nevertheless, this is below Zimbabwe’s ten-year average maize production of 1,1 million tons and annual domestic consumption needs of between 1,9 and 2 million tons.

African maize imports

The 2019/20 production season corresponds with the 2020/21 marketing year, which means Zimbabwe will still need to import around a million tons of maize to fulfill the domestic needs within this marketing year.

Meanwhile, in the East Africa region, the International Grains Council forecasts Kenya’s 2019/20 maize harvest at 3,4 million tons. This is roughly unchanged from the previous season, although there had been good rains over the past few weeks in the grain-producing regions of the country. With Kenya’s annual maize consumption at about 4,7 million tons, the aforementioned production estimate means the country might need to import around 1,3 million tons within the 2020/21 marketing year.

Key maize suppliers

Unlike other seasons where some African countries would look outside the continent for maize supplies in seasons of deficiency, South Africa and Zambia could emerge as key maize suppliers. Both countries are expecting their second-largest maize harvests on record within the 2019/20 production season.

In the case of South Africa, the expected harvest is 15,6 million tons, against domestic consumption of roughly 11 million tons. In the case of Zambia, the 2019/20 maize harvest is estimated at 3,4 million tons, against domestic maize consumption of 2,2 million tons.

This means South Africa could have at least 2,7 million tons of maize for export markets within the 2020/21 season, up 89% year-on-year, while Zambia could have a million tons of maize for exports, up from 100 000 tons in the previous year. This would be the third year on record where Zambia could export a million tons of maize.

African countries with balanced supplies

Other key maize-producing and consuming countries within the Southern and East African regions, such as Malawi and Tanzania, will most likely have balanced supplies for their domestic markets and very limited room for exports. Hence, our focus is only on Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Worth noting is the fact that South Africa and Zambia are among the most prominent suppliers of maize to Zimbabwe and Kenya, featured among the top five maize suppliers to both countries in 2019, according to data from Trade Map.

Genetically modified maize

Biosecurity policy is always an important consideration within the African markets. To this end, South Africa had in the past experienced phytosanitary barriers because of its use of genetically modified maize seeds, which accounts for roughly 80% of its output. However, this time around things will be different. Zimbabwe lifted the ban on genetically modified maize imports from 31 January this year in a bid to improve local supplies following a poor harvest in the 2018/19 season.

With the harvest of the 2019/20 season also likely to be relatively low (as discussed above), this policy decision will help ease maize imports into Zimbabwe in the coming months. However, in the case of Kenya there is still a ban on the importation of genetically modified maize. This might limit South Africa’s participation within Kenya, while Zambia, which produced non-genetically modified maize, might be a prominent player within the Kenyan market. South Africa’s importance will likely be within the Zimbabwean market. Ultimately, both South Africa and Zambia will be key sources of maize for the Southern and East Africa region in the 2020/21 season.

Other important export markets

For South African maize producers, other important export markets beyond the African continent are markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea.

These markets were not prominent in the 2019/20 marketing year, where yellow maize export volumes were relatively lower than the previous years. Nevertheless, the 2020/21 marketing year could see them returning, provided there are minimal disruptions on the supply chains amid the COVID-19 pandemic. – Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz

Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz, shares highlights in his update on agricultural commodity markets. Click here for the full report on agricultural markets for the major commodities.

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