Botswana has run out of maize, one of its staple foods, and is banking on imports from drought-hit SA and Zambia to meet its needs.
Stocks of locally grown maize in silos are depleted, the state-owned Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board, which manages the country’s strategic grain reserves, said. The body is required to keep a minimum of 10,000 tonnes of maize in strategic reserves, it said on its website.
“The board has started the process of buying 5,000 tonnes of yellow maize from SA and 250 tonnes of white maize from Zambia,” the board said. “During the current harvest season, we are expecting 2,000 tonnes of white maize from local farmers.”
The board is targeting 20,000 tonnes of regional imports this year, but declined to provide estimated costs, citing the privacy of agreements with partners.
An El Nino-induced drought is shrinking grain production across Southern Africa and increasing the risk of hunger for some of the world’s poorest populations. It’s been more than a century since fields were this dry in SA, the continent’s biggest maize grower and traditional supplier to its neighbours along with Zambia.
While Zambia is expecting an almost 10% increase in maize output this year, it has suspended exports until the end of September, agriculture minister Given Lubinda said earlier this month. The country will honour existing contracts, but the announcement may dash hopes of neighbours such as SA, which are eyeing imports from Zambia to stem shortages after the drought hurt its harvest.
Many of Botswana’s 2.2-million people cook ground white maize to make a porridge known as phaleche and do the same with sorghum to make bogobe, both considered staples. The board has 30,000 tonnes of sorghum, above the statutory strategic requirement of 10,000 tonnes, and expects to harvest 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes this season, it said.
Demand for white maize in Botswana, the world’s biggest diamond producer after Russia, exceeds 100,000 tonnes annually, while output is about 10,000 tonnes. The African country has imported 3,206 tonnes of yellow maize, which is mainly used as animal feed, from SA this year, and about 51,000 tonnes of the white variety.
The total area on which maize and sorghum was planted this year fell 26% to 14,582ha from a year earlier, the government said in February. Production of grains would meet 29% of the national requirement of 320,000 tonnes, it said.
In January, Botswana Millers Association Chairman Nkosi Mwaba said that while local maize-meal supply would remain stable this year, prices would rise 25% to 30% due to premiums paid for imports.
Botswana President Ian Khama may declare a drought this week and announce the amount of support the government will provide to farmers and communities, in the worst dry period the country has experienced in 34 years. Last June, he declared a drought and approved a 445-million-pula ($40m) supplementary budget for relief measures.