According to the Agriculture Business Chamber (Agbiz), an organisation that represents commercial farmers and agribusiness, the expected harvest for the current production season in the case of South Africa is 15.6-million tonnes against domestic consumption of about 11-million tonnes.

In Zambia, the 2019/20 maize harvest is estimated at 3.4-million tonnes against domestic consumption of 2.2-million tonnes.

The two countries could emerge as key maize suppliers in Africa with both countries expecting their second-largest maize harvests on record.

The SA government sees agriculture as a key sector for pushing growth and addressing unemployment, while increased agricultural exports are seen as a potential boost for local industry.

SA, Zambia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania are among Africa’s main maize producers.

These figures mean SA could have at least 2.7-million tonnes of maize for export in the 2020/21 season, up 89% year on year, while Zambia could have 1-million tonnes for export, up from 100,000 tonnes the previous year. This would be the third year on record when Zambia could export 1-million tonnes of maize.

SA’s maize exporters will be the biggest beneficiaries of a decision by the government of Zimbabwe to lift a ban on the importation or growing of genetically modified (GM) maize.

In January, Zimbabwe, which is in the midst of economic collapse, lifted a ban on imports of genetically modified corn for the first time in 12 years as the country moves to tackle its worst famine.

Genetically modified corn is shunned across Sub-Saharan Africa, except by SA, amid concerns about how it might affect the health of the population.

In a market update on Monday, Wandile Sihlobo, head of agribusiness research at Agbiz, said the role of the SA and Zambian maize industries in the Southern and East African regions will remain significant in the 2020/21 marketing year which ends in April 2021.

Within the Southern Africa region, recent data released by Zimbabwe’s ministry of lands and agriculture placed its 2019/20 maize harvest at 907,628 tonnes, up 17% from the previous season. However, this is below Zimbabwe’s 10-year average maize production of 1.1-million tonnes and annual domestic consumption needs of 1.9-million to 2-million tonnes.

The 2019/20 production season corresponds with the 2020/21 marketing year, which means Zimbabwe will still need to import about 1-million tonnes of maize to fulfil its domestic needs within this marketing year, Sihlobo said.

Meanwhile, in East Africa, the International Grains Council forecasts Kenya’s 2019/20 maize harvest at 3.4-million tonnes. This is roughly unchanged from the previous season though good rains fell over the past few weeks in the grain-producing regions of the country. With Kenya’s annual maize consumption at about 4.7-million tonnes, the production estimate means the country may need to import about 1.3-million tonnes in the 2020/21 marketing year.

Sihlobo said biosecurity policy is always an important consideration within African markets. To this end, SA had in the past experienced phytosanitary barriers because of its use of genetically modified maize seeds. These account for about 80% of its output.

“But this time around things will be different. Zimbabwe lifted the ban on genetically modified maize imports 31 January 31 as the country attempted, then, to improve local supplies following a poor harvest in the 2018/19 season,” Sihlobo said.

With the harvest for the 2019/20 season also likely to be low, this policy decision will help ease maize imports into Zimbabwe in coming months.

Sihlobo said in the case of Kenya a ban on the importation of genetically modified maize remains in place. This might limit SA’s participation within Kenya, while Zambia, which produced non-genetically modified maize, might be a prominent player in the Kenyan market.

“SA’s importance is likely to be within the Zimbabwean market. Ultimately, both SA and Zambia will be key sources of maize for the southern and east Africa region in the 2020/21 season,” he said.