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October 17, 2010

South African maize exports suffer from neighbors' resistance to GM food

by Olivia Kumwenda

Restrictions on genetically modified (GM) maize imports in some countries have weighed on South Africa's ability to access export markets for the grain, an industry official has said.

Despite the need for more food some African countries have banned GM imports, fearing they could be harmful to humans and animals.

South Africa, the world's eighth-largest producer of GM crops and Africa's biggest, has seen a rapid increase in gene-altered crop output since it started growing GM farm produce in 1998.

"In South Africa we primarily grow GM maize and controls on the exports of the crop in African countries such as Kenya have placed restrictions on (the country's) ability to access new markets," Jethro Mbau, chairman of agricultural service group Afgri (AFRJ.J: Quote) told a conference in Johannesburg.

GM imports remain controversial in countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The South African government has said it is still looking for additional export markets for farmers who expected their largest crop of the grain since the record 14.42 million tonnes reaped in the 1981/82 season.

"The South African government may issue you with an export permit but the problem is that you still need another permit showing that a country you are exporting to is aware that you are exporting GM maize," said Mbau.

The government's Crop Estimates Committee last month trimmed its final estimates for the May 2009-April 2010 maize crop to 13.034 million tonnes, citing lower-than-expected yields and deliveries to silos.

Most southern African countries also expected to record big maize harvests this year and plan to export the surplus grain, limiting the scope of its traditional markets.


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