Zambia is facing a massive 25% drop in its maize harvest in the current maize harvest season, due to a lack of rain which caused lower yields, and caused farmers to plant less of the grain. However, the harvest should still be sufficient to meet the country’s internal needs with a surplus left to export.
According to agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo, the most significant maize producers in Southern and Eastern Africa, Zambia, South Africa and Tanzania, are looking at huge declines in their harvests in 2021/22. However, they are all still set to produce a surplus for export that could go a long way to meeting the import needs of other countries in the region.
East Africa’s maize exporter, Tanzania, is also facing a significant reduction of 16% in its harvest, due to droughts at the start of the season combined with armyworm infestations, Sihlobo wrote in a column that was first published on Business Day. In some regions farmers could also not afford the high fertiliser prices, leading to a decline in their yields. The country is estimated to harvest 5.9 million tonnes this season.
South Africa’s 2021/22 maize harvest is down by 10% from the previous season, estimated at 14.7 million tonnes. Farmers reduced the area planted with maize, and poor yields in some regions following excessive rains during the season also weighed on the harvest.
Sihlobo points out that South Africa’s domestic maize consumption is 11.8 million tonnes, leaving a surplus for export that is larger in size to Zambia’s entire harvest of 2.7 million tonnes. This could go a long way to meeting the needs of maize-importing countries in Southern and East Africa.
It is anticipated that countries including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia will need to import maize imports to meet their domestic needs later this year and into 2023.
The case for GMOs
However, as much as 80% of South Africa’s maize production is genetically modified, and some of these countries still prohibit the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Kenya is especially opposed to GMO use.
Sihlobo notes that since South Africa embraced this technology in the early 2000s its maize yields have more than doubled from about 2.4 tonnes per hectare to an average of 5.6 tonnes per hectare in the 2020/21 season.
GMOs were a major factor in improving yields, although farmers also benefitted from advances in non-GMO biotechnology.
“Meanwhile, the overall sub-Saharan African maize yield remains low, averaging below 2 tonnes per hectare.”
Sihlobo is a strong advocate for the adoption of GMO technologies.
“In the long term, I believe African countries should review their limits on growing and importing genetically modified maize. The likes of the EU, which for roughly 25 years opposed genetically modified maize, is slowly opening up for imports. China is also on the way to approving genetically modified grains for domestic cultivation,” he writes.
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