South Africa Seeks to Move Corn Belt West
Coal mining operations are making land unsuitable for farming in the South African province of Mpumalanga, where 20% of the country’s 2014 corn crop was produced. As a result, South Africa, the world’s second biggest white corn producer after Mexico, is targeting a nine-fold increase in annual corn production in the Eastern Cape province to 1 million tons by 2018, according to South Africa’s Bureau of Food and Agricultural Policy.
Despite being the country’s second largest corn producing province after the Free State, Mpumalanga is also where 80% of the country’s coal is mined. Almost half, or 46%, of the country’s best arable land is located in Mpumalanga – but 12% has been rendered unusable for farming because of mining and an additional 14% of the best land is considered to be under threat as prospecting widens.
Expansion of corn production into the Eastern Cape will not be easy though. The province is the second smallest producer out of the country’s nine provinces, and is the least economically developed, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations in its January report. New farmers to the province are finding it difficult to expand beyond small plots, or obtain financing because they don’t hold title deeds to areas of communal land belonging to local communities. Communal land rights have been exercised by traditional communities in rural regions of South Africa where a third of the country’s population has lived for hundreds of years. However, these land rights are not individualized and may not be registered.
This year, South Africa will see its smallest corn harvest since 2007 as the worst drought since 1992 damages crops in the Free State and North West provinces, which accounted for 64% of the 2014 harvest. As a result, prices for white corn used for human consumption have risen 22% and prices for yellow corn used for animal feed have risen 10% this year. Many believe between weather conditions hurting production, and mining operations taking arable land, it is important to the country’s food security and economy to expand corn production into the Eastern Cape.