Mozambique’s second-biggest port is readying to get more corn shipments as southern African countries order record amounts of the grain from overseas to plug regional demand after a drought decimated local harvests.
Beira, in the center of the country’s coastline and about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the closest town in Zimbabwe, “is preparing to receive a large quantity of maize in the weeks and months to come” for the landlocked country and neighboring Malawi, said Jan de Vries, the commercial manager at Cornelder de Mocambique Sarl, which manages the facilities. “This cargo is a business opportunity, but due to the humanitarian nature, the port has agreed special concessional rates for maize,” he said, using another term for corn.
Ports throughout southern Africa are preparing for record imports of corn, used to make a staple food, after an El Nino weather pattern obliterated crops in the region. About 50 million people face hunger in the east and south of the continent, the United Nation’s humanitarian affairs agency said. Countries in the area will be forced to import as many as 9 million metric tons of the grain this year, said AGRI SA, the biggest representative of farmers in South Africa, where white-corn prices have more than doubled since the start of 2015.
Sixty thousand tons have been announced “and shipments are expected to increase from July onward and especially from August,” De Vries said by e-mail. Most of the corn is either from Ukraine or Mexico, he said.
South Africa, the continent’s biggest corn producer and traditionally a net exporter of agricultural products, may need to import 3.8 million tons of of the grain this year to supplement domestic supplies after it got the lowest rainfall since 1904 last year. It has declared a state of disaster in eight of its nine provinces, while Malawi and Zimbabwe have done so nationwide, which enables international financial assistance. Botswana has run out of corn and is banking on imports from neighbors to meet its needs.
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Transnet SOC Ltd., South Africa’s state-owned ports and rail operator, is prepared to offload and rail as many as 7 million tons of corn this year. It has readied its port at Richards Bay, used mainly to export coal and chrome, to receive as many as 1.5 million tons, Chief Executive Officer Siyabonga Gama said last month. It will also help rail 600,000 to 700,000 tons of corn from the port of Maputo in Mozambique through South Africa to Zimbabwe, he said.
The port at Nacala in northern Mozambique is expecting to get more than 300,000 tons of corn destined for Malawi, Portos do Norte SA said last month.
Beira handles cargo for Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo, which are the continent’s biggest sources of copper, as well as Mozambique, Africa’s largest producer of coking coal used to make steel. Given the drop in demand for and prices of commodities these nations produce, the port doesn’t expect to reach 2016 targets and sees volumes “dropping slightly,” De Vries said.
“In the first four months of the year, overall volumes have dropped by around 10 percent compared to the record” last year, De Vries said. “It will be a challenge to turn this around and end 2016 with positive growth.”