One of the challenging aspects when utilising agricultural production data for a number of countries from various sources is a possibility of misaligning the production years. We fell into this trap in our note on 18 June 2019. We indicated that the United States department of agriculture (USDA) pegged Zimbabwe’s 2018/19 maize production at 1,7 million tons, down by 21% from the previous season.

A South African perspective

From a South African perspective, the 2018/19 production season would represent the 2019 calendar year, which is the approach we took with Zimbabwe’s data. Fortunately, we were quickly corrected by the USDA, who indicated to us that they calculate the rest of the SADC countries’ maize production estimates differently from South Africa. In other words, the 2019 calendar year is represented as 2019/20 production year for the SADC countries, aside from South Africa which is represented as 2018/19.

This means that maize production conditions in Zimbabwe are far worse than we reported. The USDA forecasts Zimbabwe’s 2019/20 maize production at 800 000 tons, down by 53% from the previous year, as shown in figure one below. This is the result of both reduction in area planted, and expectations of poor yields on the back of drier weather conditions at the start of the season and damages caused by cyclone Idai earlier this year. For context, Zimbabwe consumes about 2 million tons a year.

Zimbabwe’s maize suppliers

Against this backdrop, the Zimbabwean grain marketing board issued a tender to buy 750 000 tons of maize, which will be the largest volume since 2016 when the country imported 1,4 million tons. It is unclear, however, where Zimbabwe will get the maize supplies as the likes of South Africa and Zambia, who are typically the region’s maize exporters, will have tight supplies due to lower production in 2018/19 production season. South Africa could have about 1,1 million tons for export, but this will largely be destined for Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and the Eswatini.

The other important factor is that Zimbabwe will possibly be looking for white maize, which means that outside of the Southern Africa region, the reliable white maize supplier could be Mexico, with about a million tons of maize for the export market in the 2019/20 marketing year, according to data from the USDA. Aside from white maize, Zimbabwe can import yellow maize from Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and the US, among others. – Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz