'South Africa's drought likely to persist'

Africa’s most advanced economy and top maize producer has been scorched by drought.

Picture: Freeimages.com

JOHANNESBURG - Drought conditions in South Africa that have pushed prices for maize, the national staple, to record highs are likely to persist for the rest of the southern hemisphere summer, the national weather service said on Friday.

"The forecasting system is confidently showing that going towards the late summer and early autumn seasons, the likelihood of dry conditions over most parts of the country is still high," the South African Weather Service said in its monthly forecast.

Africa's most advanced economy and top maize producer has been scorched by a drought exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years.

"Most models are showing the continuation of a strong El Nino episode towards the late-summer season," the Weather Service said in its outlook for January to May 2016.

"The persisting extreme dry and warm conditions for the summer season may worsen the current drought conditions which the country is already experiencing," it said.

The December white maize contract, which expires next week, ended 2.10 percent higher on Friday at a record high of R4,200 a tonne, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The rand's recent plunge to record lows has also spurred the rally, which has serious implications for food prices as white maize is a crucial source of calories for lower-income households.