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Zimbabwe bans grain imports after higher maize output

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HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe has banned grain imports to protect local farmers after producing enough to meet domestic demand, a government minister said on Tuesday, just a year after a devastating drought left more than 4 million people in need of food aid.

The southern African nation’s grain agency has also raised $200 million from the government and private sector to purchase maize from farmers, the Herald newspaper said.

The national treasury last week forecast output of the staple maize at 2.1 million tonnes this year, from 511,000 tonnes in 2016.

“It is true we have banned all grain imports because we have produced enough this year and also because we need to protect our local farmers,” Davis Mharapira, the deputy minister of agriculture said.

Mharapira said the Grain Marketing Board would pay $390 per tonne for white maize, almost triple the $143 for the September contract for white maize in South Africa, one of the countries from which Zimbabwe has previously imported maize.

The deputy minister said the higher price would encourage farmers to produce more maize while the import ban would make it impossible for dealers to buy the grain abroad and resell it at a higher price locally.

Zimbabwe has since 2001 been importing maize to meet domestic demand of 1.8 million tonnes, blamed in part on seizures of white-owned farms by the government of President Robert Mugabe that hit commercial agriculture production.

Mharapira said the national strategic grain reserve was holding 180,000 tonnes of maize, far below its targeted requirements of between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes.


(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Mark Potter)

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Zimbabwe gets $200 mil Afreximbank loan to import maize

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HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe has secured a $200 million loan from Africa Export and Import Bank (Afreximbank) to import maize following a drought that will see 10 percent of the population facing hunger, the central bank governor said on state radio on Friday.

The Southern African nation of 13 million people said early this month it planned to import up to 700,000 tonnes of the staple maize this year to avert hunger as the El Nino weather pattern brings poor rains and affects crops.

“We have arranged a facility of $200 million from Afreximbank and we will be importing from anywhere in the world,” John Mangudya was quoted saying by state radio.

He did not say how much the country would import.

Mangudya said Zimbabwe had 250,000 tonnes in its strategic reserves, adding that the country had enough maize to last until September. Private millers have previously said maize stocks would not last beyond June.

The United Nations World Food Programme said some 14 million people face hunger in Southern Africa because of a drought that has been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern.

Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption is 1.5 million tonnes but the 2015 harvest was half that following another drought.

Agriculture is critical to Zimbabwe’s economy, generating 30 percent of export earnings and contributing 19 percent to GDP, while 70 percent of the population still survives on farming.


(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia)

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South Africa white maize at record high, drought concerns mount

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Mounting jitters about a searing drought pushed South African white maize prices to record highs on Friday and traders said the ceiling had not been reached as farmers fail to plant in the Free State province.

The rand’s plunge to record lows has also spurred the rally, which has serious implications for the inflation outlook in Africa’s most advanced economy as white maize is the main source of calories for lower-income households.

South Africa’s central bank, which is in a tightening cycle, has repeatedly voiced concern about the drought and food prices.

The December white maize contract, which expires next week, was 0.6 percent higher at 4,140 rand a tonne after scaling a peak of 4,160 rand, according to Thomson Reuters data.

“Some relief rain fell yesterday and last night but it is still too little in the Free State and there are still farmers there who have not planted yet,” said Piet Faure, a trader at CJS Securities.

The weather forecast for the next two weeks in maize-growing areas of the Free State is also not good, traders said. Farmers who have not yet planted will soon run out of time to do so.

An El Nino weather pattern has exacerbated the drought and follows a bad last harvest when dry conditions shriveled the crop by a third to 9.94 million tonnes, the lowest since 2007.


(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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South Africa preparing for “worst-case” maize import scenario

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa is laying the groundwork in case it needs to import as much as 4 million tonnes of maize after successive seasons of drought threaten the crop in Africa’s top producer of the grain, which is usually a net exporter.

Siyabonga Gama, chief executive of Transet, South Africa’s state-run ports and rail company, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday the company’s talks with the industry indicated that 4 million tonnes was the “worst-case scenario”.

“The rail side is not the issue. We have the capacity there to absorb that much maize,” he said.

He said South Africa’s ports were designed mostly to export grain rather than import it, but this hurdle could be overcome.

“The issue is the import silo capacity so there are a few things that we will need to tweak. It could still be done.”

Other industry scenarios see a need to import perhaps 2.5 million tonnes or even as little as 700,000 tonnes, depending on rainfall patterns for the rest of the season.

The outlook is not good as an El Nino weather system is exacerbating a scorching start to the growing season, following drought conditions in the previous one which shrivelled the crop by a third to 9.94 million tonnes, the lowest since 2007.

This is helping to fuel inflation in Africa’s most advanced economy as the white variety of maize is a staple that provides much of South Africa’s caloric intake.

South Africa’s central bank has repeatedly voiced its concern this year about the impact of drought and food prices on the inflation outlook.

The March maize contract climbed over 2 percent to an all-time high of 3,662 rand ($247) a tonne on Tuesday after forecast rain over the weekend in the western part of the maize belt failed to meet expectations.

The December contract is fetching 3,705 rand a tonne, up 75 percent so far in 2015 and within striking distance of its record high of 4,000 rand reached last year, according to Thomson Reuters data.

“Initial indications are that it is going to be a very big import year. We will firm up the actual demand by January or February and we will have a plan at the correct time,” Gama said.

He said aside from the main grain facilities at the ports of Durban and East London, South Africa can also use Port Elizabeth and Cape Town and could even use Richards Bay, mostly used for coal exports, in a pinch.


(By Ed Stoddard. Editing by James Macharia and David Evans)

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