South Africa expects to seal a deal with buyers in Saudi Arabia and India for about 100,000 tonnes of its surplus maize before the end of February, a senior government official said on Monday.
Africa's top maize producer has been struggling to find markets for about 4 million tonnes of the grain after a bumper crop of 12.815 million tonnes in the 2009/10 season, its biggest yield in three decades.
We should have a deal for these particular players before the end of February, maybe within the next two weeks, Langa Zita, director general in the agriculture department told Reuters.
They are looking at around 100,000 tonnes (in total), Zita said, declining to name the potential buyers.
Zita said the sale of the grain, which had been in the pipeline since December 2010, was hampered by politics in the grain industry, where besides farmers, traders and grain storers were also involved in getting the maize to market.
We went to the relevant leadership of the grain industry... and they could not put us through to the people who need to give us the maize to sell, Zita said.
South Africa has had to look for new export markets outside Africa after some of its traditional markets within the continent also recorded maize surpluses.
Zita also said not selling the entire surplus could work to South Africa's advantage as it would secure enough supplies of a staple food to millions of people in the domestic market. Each year between 8-9 million tonnes of maize is consumed in the country.
The kind of food surplus that we have can take us through for the next two, three years. So there is not going to be food problems in South Africa for that period, Zita said.
Farmers' group Grain SA also said earlier this month that South Africa's maize surplus was likely to prevent any supply shortage this year after heavy rains affected planting.