News that Zimbabwe’s government has significantly relaxed import and pricing controls on staple foodstuffs, is an opportunity for South Africa to increase exports of maize and wheat to its neighbour, according to Grain SA.
Media reports have indicated that this decision by the Zimbabwean government was prompted by current and projected food shortages in that country.
A 2019 report on Zimbabwe by the Southern African Development Community’s Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Programme, said that the country was struggling with significantly depressed agricultural production, largely due to ongoing drought conditions in combination outbreaks of pests and diseases in both crops and livestock.
The report added that an estimated 5,5 million of Zimbabwe’s just over 14 million people were now food insecure and “require emergency cereal (maize grain) assistance amounting to [about] 818 300t”.
The media reports added that the Zimbabwean government’s temporary measures to try to feed the country’s people included the removal of import permits for maize grain, maize meal, and wheat flour, with wheat flour to be placed on the Open General Import License list.
Zimbabwe’s ministry of finance had also reportedly suspended all import duties on essential foodstuffs.
Corné Louw, senior economist at Grain South Africa, told Farmer’s Weekly that Zimbabwe’s critical need for maize and wheat grains and meal, could result in increased imports of these commodities and products from South Africa.
Over the past five years, Zimbabwe imported an average of about 16 170t of wheat grain and almost 30 340t of maize grain annually from South Africa.
“A key problem for grain exports from South Africa to Zimbabwe is that the Zimbabwean government usually doesn’t accept grains of GMO [genetically modified organism] crops. About 85% of South Africa’s maize is GMO. However, the Zimbabwean government usually accepts meal even if this has been manufactured from GMO crops,” Louw explained.
He added that the Zimbabwean government’s easing of its interventions in cross-border trade and prices of agricultural commodities, although temporary, were a good thing for trade within Southern Africa.
“We have sufficient stocks of grain, especially of white maize, to export to Zimbabwe,” said Louw.
According to South Africa’s Crop Estimates Committee, local production of maize during the 2018/2019 summer season totalled just over 12,5 million tons, of which about 6,5 million tons comprised white maize.