Net importing status looms for Southern Africa

Maize imports may be on the cards for the Southern African region due to the territorial expansion by the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda).

According to reports, the pest has invaded Malawian maize crops, after causing serious losses in Zambia during the past two months, and in Zimbabwe, this month.

“The extent of the damage is unclear at this stage, but a sizeable area across these countries has been affected,” said agricultural economist, Wandile Sihlobo.

Sihlobo said this meant there is a higher possibility that Southern Africa could again be a net importer of maize this season.

The most recent figures show that 172 000 ha of maize has been affected in Zambia. The extent of the crop loss has not been quantified in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Zambia was the only Southern African country with a maize surplus in 2016, but strict bans prevented exports to neighbouring countries, where production has been down due to the drought.

The Herald Newspaper last week reported that Zimbabwe’s maize fields might be “completely wiped out” unless the outbreak is contained.

Reasonable crop expected in SA

There have been no reports of outbreaks from South Africa, the region’s primary maize producer. SA expects to return to its net exporting status this year, if present conditions continue. However, the country is recovering from a serious drought and will not have the quantities needed for the southern region if the current crop destruction continues.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), last season’s South African crop of 7,7 million tons was 27% down from the, already reduced, crop of the previous season.

The SA crop is in pretty good condition and weather forecasts are favourable for rain in the coming weeks, said Sihlobo.

Market estimates indicate an expected harvest of between 11, 7 million tons and 13 million tons this season.

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