UGANDA – The Ugandan Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives has developed policies to combat aflatoxin in agricultural produce.

Alfred Oyo Andima, the Secretary at the Ministry announced the strategic move while appearing before the joint Committee on Health and Agriculture on Thursday, 05 October 2023.

The committee has been mandated to assess the impact of aflatoxin contamination in foods to ensure that safe and high-quality agro commodities are sold in the domestic and international markets.

According to Andima, the National Trade Policy, Grains Trade Policy, and Standard and Quality Policy have set measures to ensure aflatoxin-free foods on the market.

He added that the sector has also developed standards for grains and facilities for their enforcement.

“The ministry through Uganda National Bureau of Standards and the private sector has strengthened the capacity to test for mycotoxins at different levels of the value chain,” said Andima.

To facilitate certification and enforcement activities, Daniel Makayi, the UNBS Acting Executive Director said the Bureau has decentralized testing facilities to Gulu, Mbale, and Mbarara, with laboratories equipped to analyze mycotoxins and other contaminants.

“The existing legal framework in Uganda, with reference to the quality of grain is the issuance of the SPS permit from the Ministry of Agriculture and enforcement of the distinctive mark [Q-Mark] issued by UNBS,” said Makayi.

He noted that the bureau has 37 surveillance officers managing enforcement in the entire country, and made a call for more staff to improve market surveillance and import inspection.

With an annual staff recruitment of 100 for the next two years, we should be in a position to reduce the turnaround time for testing and certification services by 50 percent,” Makayi added.

On his part, Hon. Harriet Ntabazi, the State Minister for Trade expressed concern about premature harvesting by farmers which according to her, has affected the standard of grain produce which makes sellers dodge standard certification procedures.

“They sneak from UNBS checkpoints onto the market; so, you will find high aflatoxin levels even if we fight it as a government. This is what happened at the border in Nimule where seven trucks sneaked away without testing by UNBS,” she said.

Ntabazi called for more financing from the Trade Ministry to facilitate the procurement of portable testing equipment to effectively check for aflatoxins.

Humphrey Mutaasa, the Chief Technical Officer at Grain Council of Uganda said Uganda loses an estimated US$38 million annually in missed export opportunities due to aflatoxin contamination.

He noted that aflatoxin contamination does not begin from post-harvesting but rather in soils and suggested the breeding of resistant crippled breeds to control the growth of molds.

Legislators emphasized the need to promote cooperatives that can bring farmers together and teach them about the certification of their produce and facilities.