A quarter of South Africa's surplus maize crop of four million tons has so far been exported to Southern African countries and to the Far East, as South Africa searches for new markets.

Agricultural economists expect the surplus crop produced this year to be carried forward into the next harvest season as there is weak global demand for maize at present.

The surplus crop will suppress the maize price, which has already traded below R2,000 per ton from a peak of over R5,000 per ton last year after the severe El Niño-induced drought devastated crops and livestock.

Michelle Mokone, an agricultural economist at GrainSA, said this week that, due to the surplus this season, South Africa had to find export markets not only within the region, but beyond Africa too.

"So far, South Africa has already exported 1.1million tons of maize, of which 67% is yellow maize and 33% white maize. The export destinations for white maize are mainly ... Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland," she said.

These countries together account for 17% of total maize exports for the season, according to data from the South African Grain Information Service. The other importers of South African maize are Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Kenya, which has been hit by severe drought, has emerged as the biggest African buyer of South Africa's maize. The latest figures indicate that Kenya has so far imported 204663 tons of maize from South Africa this season.

"There has also been a healthy demand of yellow maize mainly from Japan and Taiwan, and at the beginning of the season we saw yellow maize exports to North and South Korea," Mokone said.

This year's harvest is the largest in nearly three decades.

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