Food prices will rise next year owing to the ongoing drought in South Africa, says grain farmer’s association Grain SA econo- mist Wandile Sihlobo.
Speaking at an event hosted by nonprofit biotechnology stakeholders association AfricaBio last month, he stressed that rising food prices would not be limited to South Africa, but felt throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
Produce affected by the drought included maize, sorghum and soy beans.
“South Africa produces a large percentage of maize for the SADC region. Forty-two per cent of maize in the entire SADC region comes from South Africa and 14 SADC member States import 69% of their maize from South Africa,” he pointed out.
Sihlobo added that South Africa’s summer crop basket, which included soy beans, sunflowers, sorghum and peanuts, had decreased 27%. South Africa’s maize production, a staple food for many citizens, had decreased 30% since last year.
“A large part of the maize decrease mostly affects the poor population of South Africa. White maize production has decreased 38%, and 30% of South Africans living on social grants will face a challenging situation regarding food security in 2016.”
He pointed out, however, that South Africa had not done too badly regarding crop yields when one looked at them over an extended period, with soy bean output having risen to over one-million tons.
The country had also made great strides in maize production on a yearly comparative level, owing to the improved quality of seeds and the improved practices of farmers in local communities.
“Twelve years ago, South Africa planted on 2.8-million hectares of land and was producing nine-million tonnes of maize a year. Today, the size of the area of farmed land has decreased to 2.6-million hectares; however, production has increased.”
Meanwhile, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research biosciences principal researcher Dr Eugenia Barros told Engineering News that significant developments in geneti- cally modified (GM) crops had been made in South Africa’s agriculture sector, including increased crop yield, which has a direct impact on food production and food security, as well as a decrease in the use of pesticides and herbicides in GM crop fields.
This has a considerable impact on the environment, biodiversity and the health of farm workers who could be exposed to chemicals while applying them to the fields, she says.
“There are commercial benefits that have impacted positively on the livelihoods of many farmworkers in the country, along with other agricultural benefits, such as making land available for the cultivation of other small crops,” she notes.
Barros stated that commercial production of GM maize, soya bean and cotton has been in place and that new traits are being introduced that will have a positive impact on food production and on the economy of South Africa, such as the drought-tolerant maize that is being evalu- ated in field trials in the country as part of the Wema (Water Efficiency Maize for Africa) project.
Wema is a public–private partnership, led by the Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G Buffet Foundation and US Aid.
It was created to enhance food security in sub-Saharan Africa by developing and deploying water-efficient maize, supplied royalty-free to smallholder farmers. Insect protection is complementary to the efforts of developing more drought-tolerant maize varieties and will also be available royalty-free.
This increased yield stability could potentially reduce hunger and improve the livelihood of millions of Africans.