South Africa imported white maize from the United States last week for the first time since 2004, the country’s Grain Information Service (SAGIS) said on Tuesday.
White maize is the staple source of calories in South Africa and industry sources estimate imports of over a million tonnes of this variety of the grain in the coming marketing season between May and April next year after the domestic crop was scorched by drought.
In the current marketing year, which ends April 30, South Africa has already imported over 70 000 tonnes of white maize from Mexico and Zambia, according to SAGIS data.
Last week it imported 1 330 tonnes from the United States, the data showed.
Wandile Sihlobo, economist with producer group Grain SA, said it was the first time South Africa had imported US white maize since 2004.
He said the importers probably wanted to check the quality of the US white maize and also ensure it was not genetically modified (GMO). Most of South Africa’s maize crop is GMO but it differs from the US varieties.
“If it’s fine, we might see an increase in imports from the United States,” Sihlobo said.
Zambia and other countries in the region have also been hit by drought and so will not be able to export enough white maize to meet South Africa’s needs. That leaves Mexico and the United States as the main sources for the grain.
The white maize contract for July eased 1.57% on Tuesday to R4 440 ($310.90) a tonne but remains within range of its historic peak of R5 165 a tonne scaled in January, according to Thomson Reuters data.