South Africa's maize-growing North West Province declares drought

-PHOTO TAKEN 23FEB06- Black South African commercial farmer Motsepe Matlala inspects the maize growi..
A South African commercial farmer Motsepe Matlala inspects the maize growing on his farm near the small town of Ermelo in Mpumalanga province, in a file photo.

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's North West Province on Wednesday declared there was a drought across its whole territory, an important maize growing region in Africa's biggest producer of the crop.

"Premier Thandi Modise has declared the entire province of the North West a drought-stricken area," the provincial premier's office said in a statement.

The province contributes close to a third of South Africa's total maize crop in some years.

An official declaration of drought means emergency relief can be made available to commercial and subsistence farmers and the province has received 19,000 applications for financial assistance, it said.

Dry conditions and low levels in dams needed for irrigation will raise concerns about planting as farmers prepare fields. South African maize is usually sown in the early stages of the summer and rainy season from October to December.

South Africa last month raised its forecast of maize output for 2013 to 11.513 million tonnes from 11.394 million tonnes in its previous forecast, citing better yields from the yellow maize variety.