ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe is bracing for a substantial food security challenge in the marketing year (MY) 2024/25, as the country anticipates importing approximately 1.0 million metric tons (MMT) of corn to meet domestic demand,  according to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report

This need arises following a catastrophic 60 percent drop in local corn production, with output plummeting to 635,000 metric tons (MT) due to extreme drought conditions triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Corn is the main staple food and most crucial crop in Zimbabwe. However, the drought has led to a total crop failure in over half of the country’s planted corn areas, particularly affecting the western regions and traditionally high-yielding northern provinces.

The drought has devastated over 900,000 hectares (ha) out of an estimated 1.8 million hectares of planted corn, forcing the Zimbabwean government to declare a “State of Disaster” in April 2024 and appeal for $2 billion in aid to support affected communities.

The drought’s impact is particularly severe as over 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s corn production relies solely on rainfall. Smallholder farmers, who dominate corn farming in Zimbabwe, have limited access to irrigation technologies, further exacerbating the situation.

 The country’s agricultural sector is also hindered by high input costs and frequent disruptions in the supply chain for essential inputs like fertilizer, contributing to suboptimal corn yields.

Zimbabwe diversifies the import market

Historically, Zimbabwe has relied on neighboring countries such as South Africa and Zambia for corn imports.

However, the USDA has revealed that South Africa’s corn crop has also suffered from drought, reducing its output by nearly 20 percent. Concurrently, Zambia faces its own domestic shortages and is expected to import at least 1.0 MMT of corn to meet local demand, tightening the regional supply further.

In response, Zimbabwe plans to source corn from the global market, with potential imports from Brazil, Russia, Argentina, and the United States.

The Zimbabwean government, in collaboration with private millers, will facilitate these imports. While Zimbabwe permits genetically engineered (GE) corn imports, these shipments must undergo quarantine before being processed into corn meal, the country’s staple food.

Human consumption to plummet, demand for corn for feed surges

Consumption patterns are expected to shift as well, with human consumption of corn predicted to decline by 6 percent to 1.5 MMT due to reduced availability and rising prices.

The livestock sector’s demand for feed corn, however, is projected to increase to 350,000 MT to sustain the national cattle herd and support the growing broiler production, which saw a 9 percent increase in 2023.

To manage the crisis, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), Zimbabwe’s sole grain buyer, is mandated to maintain a minimum strategic reserve of 500,000 MT of corn.

However, low production levels have historically made it challenging to meet this requirement. Ending corn stock levels for MY 2022/23 were 365,000 MT, significantly below the mandated minimum.

Post estimates indicate that Zimbabwe would need to import 1.5 MMT of corn to meet demand and maintain strategic reserves, but this target appears unattainable given the limited availability and high cost of white corn in the market.

Zimbabwe’s grain storage infrastructure, managed by the GMB, is set for expansion and modernization, with plans to add 750,000 MT of storage capacity over the next three years in a move to improve food security and mitigate future supply disruptions.

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