UGANDA – Grain processors and traders have accused government agencies of not doing enough in the fight for quality grain and other agricultural products and exports.
In June, the South Sudan National Bureau of Standards (SSNBS) impounded Ugandan trucks loaded with maize grains, maize flour, and wheat on allegations of failing to pass the test for contamination with aflatoxin.
Despite deeming Juba’s acts unfair, Ugandan authorities opted for a diplomatic approach “because of the importance of the South Sudan market” to the country.
Speaking at the sensitization meeting on the new initiatives to improve the quality and safety of maize products, Richard Sserwadda, the chairman of Rubaga Grain Millers Association said the the UNBS had focused all efforts on the processors and traders, yet aflatoxins are mainly caused at the farm.
He wondered why UNBS personnel crack down on grain in Kampala, leaving the farmers and primary buyers in the countryside to operate freely.
He also expressed the frustration the traders get when their goods are held for up to a week before the UNBS completes the testing and certifying the sample, especially at the Matugga center which was established recently to handle grain destined for South Sudan.
This, according to him leads to a loss of capital and market, as sometimes the prospective buyers switch to other suppliers for quick supplies. This can lead to transporters avoiding the testing process, he says.
However, responding to allegations, representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, admitted that there is a problem at the primary production stages also.
According to the ministry, grain processors and transporters have a lot to do to prove food safety for Ugandans and the export market, condemning how some handle grain in appalling environments.
Connie Acayo, Assistant Commissioner extension insisted that the buyers and processors contribute to the poor quality by influencing farmers
However, traders pass the blame to the government for not seamlessly controlling the value chain.
Sarah Nannono, another member of the Rubaga-bases association blamed the extension department of the Ministry of Agriculture for not doing their work.
She said, for example, that the ministry gives farmers planting materials but that the officials never go back to follow up on how the farms are doing, giving room to the farmers to do as they wish.
In response, Acayo said the extension department is highly understaffed, with a ratio of about 1 to 2,500 farmers, which leaves a big gap between the extension workers and the farmers.
She however proposed that if the farmers and traders were organized into groups, it would be easier to reach out to them, on top of themselves being able to do some self-regulation.
On the delays at the testing labs, the UNBS Deputy Executive Director for Standards, Patricia Ejalu promised that more labs would be established and staffed to reduce pressure on the current ones.
She said the certification of privately owned labs was going on but that the process takes longer because of the strict scrutiny involved. However, she added that the exporter will have to bear for the four days it takes at Matugga but that it will soon fall to two days.