COMMODITIES: Impending grain deficit rekindles GMO consideration

A young lady shows a bumper harvest of a traditional farmer who planted drought resistant maize seed in the 2018/19 cropping season. Photo by Khumbulani Taruvanda, CAJ News Africa.

A young lady shows a bumper harvest of a traditional farmer who planted drought resistant maize seed in the 2018/19 cropping season. Photo by Khumbulani Taruvanda, CAJ News Africa.

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) AMID strong indications that Southern Africa is headed for yet another year of poor agricultural output, experts have advised policymakers to encourage white maize production under irrigation and temporarily ease restrictions on imports of the genetically modified varieties of the commodity.

Imports of genetically white maize are restricted in the whole of Southern African Development Community (SADC) region except South Africa.

Genetically modified foods are an emotive issue in the region. According to the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), a number of Southern African countries shun them since the technology is still under experimentation. There are fear of bio-terrorism, and lack of clarity about implications of genetically modified organism (GMO) technology.

The Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), an influential association of agribusinesses operating in Southern Africa, is advocating for collaborations between authorities and private sector trading groups to ensure that required maize is sourced from various parts of the world timeously.

“This collaboration should include easing regulations on imports in countries where such (GMO restriction) exists,” the organisation stated this week.

The think-tank said the output in agriculture across the region, called for the need for forward planning, which would be key to mitigate the effects of food insecurity.

“To this end, there is first a need to improve the timeliness and quality of agricultural conditions data across the Southern African region, especially for the staple crop which is maize.”

This remains a challenge for most African countries with the exception of Zambia and South Africa, which frequently release data on agricultural conditions and the expected crops harvest.

Agbiz’s recommendations follow the maize planting season getting off to a bad start across the region in October and November.

Agbiz highlighted that the process had thus far disappointed because of dryness in various countries, notably, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

These countries have already experienced a double-digit decline in maize production in the 2018/19 production season, leaving Zimbabwe and Mozambique as net importers of maize and other agricultural products.

Accordingly, the forecasts of another drought have raised fears that there might not be a recovery in general agriculture production that many had hoped for going into the 2019/20 season.

But, according to Agbiz, the dearth of timely data also increases prospects of a slow response from policymakers, private sector firms that operate within the food industry and various non-governmental institutions that are concerned with food security in Southern Africa.

“Although we are yet to know how crop conditions will be over the coming months and the potential size of import needed, if there is indeed a poor harvest, it is best to be warned about the impacts of below-normal rainfall beforehand rather than acting when it is too late.”

With another exporter in normal rainfall seasons, Tanzania, also experiencing similar weather conditions, affected countries’ ability to export are limited.

The World Food Programme (WFP) nonetheless has expressed optimism that South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi will be able to meet cereal requirements for 2019/20.

In a recent update for Southern Africa, WFP noted much drier than average conditions characterised the current rainfall season.

From mid November, according to the United Nations food agency, rainfall has improved significantly as at the end of the month.

“This will lead to suitable conditions for planting and early crop development but drier conditions are likely to return from early December,” WFP stated.

– CAJ News

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