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May 09, 2010

Southern Africa nations expect bumper maize harvest

by Shapi Shacinda
Most southern African countries will record bumper maize harvests in 2010, but poor policies and a lack of skilled farmers will remain a threat to long-term maize output, industry officials have said.

Relief agencies say some nations will need emergency food handouts to feed their people following poor maize yields.

Zimbabwe, once a bread basket of the region, has said it expects its maize output to fall by 11 percent due mainly to bad weather and that it would issue import permits to traders and millers to plug a deficit.

"We will, however, not allow GMO grain into the country under any circumstances," said Zimbabwe's Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, reiterating the country's position on GMO maize.

A joint government-United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, shows Zimbabwe's maize output is forecast at 1.327 million tonnes. Zambia expects over 1.9 million tonnes and Malawi about 3 million tonnes of maize.

South Africa, the continent's largest producer of the grain, projects total maize output at 13.10 million and also plans to export around 4 million tonnes of its maize surplus.

Zambian officials say they plan to export maize to Kenya, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana and Zimbabwe, while Malawi also intends to export some surplus maize.

"We plan to export between 50,000-80,000 tonnes of maize this year," Mwamba Siame, spokeswoman for Zambia's state-run Food Reserve Agency (FRA) said.

Zambia's largest farmers' group head Jervis Zimba urged immediate exports for 178,000 tonnes of 2009 carry-over stocks to ensure better local prices for this season's crop.

"We are expected to produce 3 million metric tonnes of maize this year which will give us a surplus of 600,000 metric tonnes," Andrew Daudi, principal secretary in Malawi's ministry of agriculture, said.

Angola's once-prosperous farming sector was wrecked by a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002 and imports almost all of the food it consumes, but Agriculture Minister Afonso Pedro Canga is optimistic of a rebound in the sector, with a 10.7 percent growth expected this year.

Brendan Grundlingh, analyst at Credit Suisse Standard Securities, said infertile land, poor rains and low maize prices may continue to harm maize output in some parts of the region.

"You can have a decent pricing structure, but you may not have the skilled farmers and obviously that is what is happening in Zimbabwe," Grundlingh said.

Analysts expect Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho to continue to rely on maize imports from South Africa to plug deficits.


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