• Jannie de Villiers. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

  • Children pump water at the last tap with running water in drought-stricken Masotsheni, north of Durban, last month. Picture: REUTERS


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MASSIVE late plantings of maize in January this year would fail if no significant rain fell within the next 10 days, Grain SA CEO Jannie de Villiers told Parliament’s agriculture committee on Friday.

Mr de Villiers was briefing MPs on the situation for grain in SA as a result of the most severe drought in decades.

He said in January farmers in the western growing areas planted 700,000ha in just 10 days but since then there had been little rain in the Free State and North West, and "the plants are very young and are currently under severe stress".

He said there was also a frost risk for these plants in April because of their late planting.

"Rain in the next 10 days is critical and if it does not come the maize yield will reduce still further and imports of yellow and white maize will increase," Mr de Villiers said adding that rainfall in 2015 was the lowest since 1904.

He said in theory the country could transport the millions of tonnes of maize that would have to be imported but there was limited storage, particularly at the harbours where the maize would be unloaded. He said that would put pressure on the transport system to get the maize inland where there was storage before the maize went to the processing plants.

He warned that a strike in the transport sector "would spell big, big trouble for the country".