Zimbabwe displaces Asia as South Africa’s main maize export market

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JOHANNESBURG — April marked the conclusion of South Africa’s 2023/24 maize marketing year, which saw the country navigate through a productive yet challenging season.

According to the Financial Mail, This marketing period aligned with the 2022/23 production cycle, where South Africa harvested an impressive 16.4 million tonnes of maize, thanks to extensive plantings and favorable summer rainfall, according to the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC).

Export Performance

The robust harvest allowed South Africa to sustain its position in global maize export markets. As the ninth-largest maize exporter worldwide, following countries like the US, Brazil, and Argentina, South Africa exported 3.4 million tonnes of maize in the 2023/24 marketing year. Although this was a 6% decrease from the previous year, the exports were significant, with yellow maize making up 63% and white maize 37% of the total.

Key Markets and Shifts

Traditionally, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have been the primary destinations for South African maize. However, the 2023/24 marketing year saw a notable shift, with Zimbabwe becoming the top importer, accounting for 18% of the total maize exports. This surge followed regulatory changes in Zimbabwe, allowing the import of genetically modified maize. Botswana and Mozambique were also significant markets, representing 9% and 6% of exports, respectively.

Despite these shifts, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan continued to be important markets, each accounting for around 13-14% of South Africa’s maize exports. Vietnam also remained a notable market, although with a slightly lower share at 5%.

Challenges Ahead

As the marketing year drew to a close, concerns grew among South Africa’s coastal regions regarding maize supply and pricing, particularly due to transportation costs from the central maize-producing areas. These concerns are exacerbated by a forecasted 19% decrease in the 2023/24 maize harvest, expected to drop to 13.3 million tonnes due to adverse weather conditions, including dryness and heatwaves in February and March.

Import Adjustments and Future Outlook

To address potential supply shortages, South Africa imported 32,691 tonnes of yellow maize from Argentina in the final week of the 2023/24 marketing year. More imports are anticipated in the 2024/25 marketing year to support the animal feed industry, particularly in coastal areas.

Despite the expected decline in production, South Africa is projected to remain a net exporter of maize. With an annual consumption of approximately 12.0 million tonnes and the forecasted harvest, the country will still have over a million tonnes available for export. Additionally, carry-over stocks from the previous season are expected to bolster supplies for the 2024/25 marketing year.

South Africa’s maize industry faces a challenging year ahead with reduced harvest forecasts. However, strong carry-over stocks and strategic imports are expected to help maintain a balance between domestic consumption and export commitments, ensuring the country continues to play a significant role in the global maize market.