Bumper maize crop for southern African region

MOST southern African countries will record bumper maize harvests this year, but poor policies and a lack of skilled farmers remain a threat to long-term output, industry officials said on Friday.

MOST southern African countries will record bumper maize harvests this year, but poor policies and a lack of skilled farmers remain a threat to long-term output, industry officials said on Friday.

Relief agencies say some nations will need emergency food handouts to feed people following poor maize yields.

Zimbabwe, once a bread basket of the region, has said it expects its maize output to fall by 11percent due mainly to bad weather. It would issue import permits to traders and millers to plug a deficit.

"We will, however, not allow GMO (genetically modified) grain into the country under any circumstances," Zimbabwe's agriculture minister Joseph Made said.

A joint government-United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report shows Zimbabwe's maize output is forecast at 1,327million tons. Zambia expects over 1,9million tons and Malawi about 3million.

South Africa, the continent's largest producer of the grain, projects total maize output at 13,10million and plans to export about 4million tons of its maize surplus.

Zambian officials say they plan to export maize to Kenya, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana and Zimbabwe, while Malawi also intends to export some surplus maize.

Zambia's largest farmers' group head Jervis Zimba urged immediate exports for 178000 tons of 2009 carry-over stocks to ensure better local prices for this season's crop.

Angola's once-prosperous farming sector was wrecked by a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002 and imports almost all of its food, but Agriculture Minister Afonso Pedro Canga is optimistic of a 10,7percent growth this year.

Credit Suisse Standard Securities analyst Brendan Grundlingh said infertile land, poor rains and low maize prices may harm maize output in some parts of the region.

"You can have a decent pricing structure, but you may not have the skilled farmers and obviously that is what is happening in Zimbabwe."

Analysts expect Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho to continue to import maize from South Africa. - Reuters

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