East Africa moves to harmonise staple food standards, boost trade

UGANDA – The quality of regional trade in cereals and pulses is expected to improve following the launch of newly gazetted standards for staple foods.

The harmonisation comes after a long period where each East African country used its own yardstick to determine quality of cereals including maize, millet, wheat, sorghum, rice and pulses such as beans and peas traded across borders.

Speaking during an interview on the sidelines of the launch of the new standards by the East Africa Grain Council (EAGC) in Kampala Wednesday, executive director Gerald Masila said the lack of uniform guidelines had served as a technical barrier to trade.

“We have lost out on a market position. I do not have a number right now.

But Uganda could easily double its sales to the region by more than 100 per cent if the quality standards of the grains produced here meet the specifications.

This means there would be fewer rejections and much more access to markets.

Uganda’s commodities would be able to fetch a better price and sign up continuous supply agreements,” he said.

The revised standards, which will affect cereals and pulses, are expected to become legally binding in all states four months after publication in the gazette.

Exporters and millers have been urged to certify their produce as voluntary certification will soon cease.

“We have the general quality specifications which look at the hygiene of the grains.

Then we have the specific parameters where we have moisture issues, foreign matter, diseased or broken grains,” EAGC regional manager of Structured Trading Systems, Samwel Rutto, said.

“This standard will be approved and mandatory.

You will not be allowed to trade unless your product is certified,” deputy executive director of Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), Ms Patricia Ejalu, said.

According to the EAGC, key cereals such as maize continue to face rejection not only because of discoloration but also due to high aflatoxin levels that are harmful to consumers.

Consequently, most of the region’s trade in grains has remained informal with traders selling small quantities of untested produce across borders.

The organisation’s member states therefore agreed to a quality framework which sets out standards for the entire region, which were gazetted last year in December.

The countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and South Sudan, are through their respective trade ministries and standards agencies expected to adopt and domesticate the new regulations.

The EAGC however acknowledged that compliance to standards has in the past been undermined by high cost of grain certification and limited access to laboratories for testing and grading.

The Eastern Africa Grain Council, a private sector membership organisation, has its membership drawn from grain trade stakeholders across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Members from Kenya include NSE-listed Unga Group, State-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), Pembe Flour Mills, Mombasa-based TSS Grain Millers and Olerai Farming Ltd.

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