SOUTH AFRICA – The government has approved imports of genetically modified maize from the US for the first time as the country seeks to bring in the grain after its worst drought since records began 104 years ago.

The country will allow the import of both white and yellow GM maize from the US, said Dirk Kok, a spokesperson for the secretariat of the Pretoria-based South African Cereals and Oilseeds and Trade Association, in an interview on Monday.

A call to the government’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries outside of normal office hours was not answered.

“The door is open to imports from the US” said Kok, whose organisation represents grain and oil seed traders. Local “prices will come down”.

South Africa has become a net importer of maize for the first time since 2008 after the drought slashed this year’s harvest by about a quarter to 7.97 million tonnes, the smallest crop since 2006.

That’s pushed up prices on Johannesburg’s South African Futures Exchange with white maize, used in South Africa to make the country’s staple food of maize meal, surging 80% since the end of 2014 to R3 855 a metric tonnes.

Yellow maize, used for animal feed, has jumped 45% in the same period to R3 147 a ton.

The decision “is critical,” Wandile Sihlobo, the head of economic and agribusiness intelligence at the Agricultural Business Chamber, said by phone from Pretoria.

“We are going to see a more strong 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 South Africa may import 300 000 tonnes of GM white maize from the US and 500 000 tonnes of yellow maize, he said.

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

“This will allow US corn, both white and yellow, to ship into South Africa fairly easily,” Cary Sifferath, senior director of 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 corn imports.” – Bloomberg

Decmber 6, 2016;