While South Africans will welcome lower fuel prices after their record run this year, low rainfall in some of SA's key crop-producing areas such as the North West has raised the prospect of higher food inflation going into the new year and, in turn, some downside risks to growth. Planting season in the western Free State and the North West, where two-thirds of the country's white maize production is concentrated, has been badly impacted by low rainfall; less than 20% of the hoped-for 2.4-million ha was actually planted. Rainfall predictions for next year's harvest are not promising, posing the risk of higher inflation and reduced economic growth, said Wandile Sihlobo, agricultural economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber in SA (Agbiz). "I'm not being alarmist. We're not running out of food. We have sufficient supplies to carry us through . but it is just concerning," he said. The South African Weather Service expects higher temperatures to continue into late summer and early a...

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