Southern Africa's maize supplies will likely be tight in the 2023/24 season

Southern Africa's maize supplies will likely be tight in the 2023/24 season

I'm concerned about the Southern African region's maize supplies in the 2023/24 production season. With Zambia, the second largest maize producer in the area, after South Africa declared a drought disaster, there will be increased pressure on South Africa to supply maize to the neighbouring countries.

The issue will be white maize for human consumption in most countries.

South Africa's early production forecasts indicate that we, too, have a challenge. For example, the CropEstimate Committee places South Africa's 2023/24 white and yellow maize harvestat 7,0 million tonnes (down 17% y/y) and 7,3 million tonnes (down 8% y/y), thus placing the overall maize production estimate at 14,3 million tonnes (down 13% y/y).

The challenge for maize is the possible poor yield because of dryness in some regions, as the area plantings are higher than in the 2022/23 season.

The excessive heat and scant rains across South Africa are a significant concern for farmers, particularly in the summer grains and oilseed-producing regions. The 2023/24 summer crop season started on favourable footing.

We received widespread rains, which was unusual in an El NiƱo season, which would typically start with drier weather conditions.

Those good early-season rains led us to believe the country would have a decent harvest in the 2023/24 production season. But this view has now changed. We worry about possible poor harvests if there is no widespread rain during these closing days of February into the first week of March. 

While this expected maize harvest of 14,3 million tonnes is significantly lower than the previous season, if it materializes, it would still meet South Africa's annual maize consumption of roughly 12,00 million tonnes, and the country would remain a net exporter of maize, although a much lower volume than the previous years.

But if the region struggles with drought, South Africa's possible small surplus may be too tight to meet regional needs.

There are also drought concerns in neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

Still, there is profound uncertainty about the maize harvest size currently in South Africa. The March production forecasts of the Crop Estimate Committee will give us a better picture. For now, we all pay for rain, and the recent Crop Estimates Committee's data possibly did not factor in the disruption currently caused in recent days by the excessive heat in various regions of the country.