SA approved imports of genetically modified (GM) maize from the US for the first time after its worst drought since records began 104 years ago slashed the country's output.

The nation would allow both white and yellow GM maize from the US to be brought in, Dirk Kok, a spokesman for the secretariat of the South African Cereals and Oilseeds and Trade Association, saidon Monday (Dec 5). There has been no statement yet from the SA Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The move looks set to drive maize prices down in the country - the authorities are waiting for SA farmers' reactions.


"The door is open to imports from the US," said Kok, whose organisation represents grain and oilseed traders. Local "prices will come down", he said.

South Africa became a net importer of maize in the season that ended in April for the first time since 2008 after the drought cut the total harvest by about a quarter to 7.97m tonnes, the lowest in a decade. While rains in the current season are improving prospects for the next crop, concern about supply of the white variety persist because this type is only widely produced in Southern Africa and Mexico.

White maize surged to a record $388 (R5,296) per tonne in January and has fallen 27 per cent since. The yellow type, used for animal feed, reached a high of $287 (R3,915) per tonne in June and has dropped 20 per cent.

The decision "is critical", Wandile Sihlobo, the head of economic and agribusiness intelligence at the Agricultural Business Chamber, told Bloomberg from Pretoria. "We are going to see a stronger correlation between the yellow-maize price and the US price. The reaction of the South African farmers is going to be interesting."

By the end of April, SA may import 300,000 tonnes of GM white maize from the USA and 500,000 tonnes of yellow maize, he said.

SA imported 555,241 tonnes of white maize between May 1 and November 25, or 65 per cent
of the forecast amount for the season ending April 30, according to the Agricultural Business Chamber. Almost all of that came from Mexico.

"This will allow US maize, both white and yellow, to ship into SA fairly easily," Cary Sifferath, senior director of the Washington-based US Grains Council, said by phone. "In the short term, as they wait for harvest in late April to May, there could be some need for some additional white-maize imports."

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