DJ Drought-Hit South Africa Buys U.S. Corn for First Time Sin

By Ed Ballard

The first shipment of U.S. corn to be sold to South Africa since 2004
arrived last week as the worst drought in three decades leaves southern Africa reliant on imports.

A shipment of 1,330 metric tons of U.S. white maize–the variety of corn eaten as a staple in the region–was imported in the week to April 15, according to the South African Grain Information Service, or SAGIS.

That was the first corn to arrive from a total of 31,057 tons exported to South Africa in mid-March–the first such sales recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since March 2004.

Dry weather associated with the El Nino weather phenomenon made last year the driest to hit South Africa since records began in 1904, according to the South African Weather Service. The drought has turned the country, normally a net exporter of corn that sells the crop to its neighbors, to become a net importer.

South Africa’s corn crop will total 7.3 million tons in the 2015-16
marketing year, down 27% from 2014-15, its Crop Estimate Committee said in February. The USDA expects South Africa to import 3.5 million tons of the grain this year, while farmers’ group Grain SA puts the figure at 3.8 million tons.

Most of the corn imported by South Africa has been the variety known as yellow maize, which in southern Africa is used for animal feed. South Africa has bought a million tons from Argentina and 0.5 million tons from Brazil, according to SAGIS, while it has bought white maize from Mexico as well as the U.S.

Zambia, another regional corn producer, temporarily halted exports this month while it conducted an audit of its stocks, and has since announced a plan to regulate prices.

Write to Ed Ballard at ed.ballard@wsj.com