Zimbabwe’s maize imports in 2023/24 will likely reach the highest levels in seven years.
Unlike in 2016, the country might not struggle to secure supplies from neighbouring South Africa and Zambia.
A shortfall in Zimbabwe’s maize production is attributed to a dry spell that affected the crop in the southern and western areas of the country in December.
Zimbabwe’s fortunes worsened when the country was hit by Cyclone Freddy in late January 2023, leading to crop damage.
Its 2022/23 maize production could reach 1,5 million tonnes, almost half of the ample harvest of 2.7 million tonnes in the 2020/21 production season, according to the latest estimates by the Pretoria Office of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), said the expected harvest is a mild improvement from the 2021/22 production season’s harvest of 1.4 million tonnes but 32% lower than the annual maize needs of 2.2 million tonnes.
“At face value, Zimbabwe might have to import about half a million tonnes to fulfil the yearly maize needs in the marketing year 2023/24,” Sihlobo said.
“Zimbabwe’s 2023/24 maize imports will likely reach levels that we last saw in 2016, but this time around, it may not be a struggle to secure supplies from South Africa and even Zambia.”
The Zimbabwe Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is mandated to maintain a minimum of 500 000 tonnes of strategic maize reserves in physical stocks.
Therefore, Zimbabwe will likely require 1 million tonnes of imports in the 2023/24 marketing year.
Sihlobo said given the poor economic conditions in Zimbabwe, it is unclear at this stage if GMB will procure the 500 000 tonnes strategic reserve in full within the 2023/24 marketing year.
“We will closely monitor the country’s maize import pace in the coming months, as it would lead to a substantial increase in regional maize demand,” he said.
South Africa’s 2023/24 marketing year maize surplus of over 3 million tonnes is projected to help meet the potential rise in imports in Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwe could import a particular share of maize from Zambia, to the north, the country will likely rely more on its southern neighbor, South Africa.
In the previous season, when Zimbabwe was not prominent in South Africa’s maize markets, the country had decent stocks from the last good harvests and only required maize imports of about 220 000 tonnes in the 2022/23 marketing year.
Unlike East African country Kenya, which prohibits the importation of genetically modified maize, Zimbabwe allows imports, which further opens room for South African grain exporters.