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Uganda Loses $60m Annually in Agro Exports due to Poor Standards

Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde has called for concerted efforts to strengthen the standards of Uganda’s agricultural produce with emphasis on value chain, post-harvest handling as well as improving quality to enable the country produce meet set standards for export to regional and international markets.

“We have the food but we don’t know to manage it,” said Kyambadde.

“We need to improve the know how to manage agricultural production; address inconsistent policy regimes and tap into wider markets,” she added.

Kyambadde spoke on Tuesday during the High-Level Stakeholder Dialogue on Mainstreaming Sanitary and Phytosanitary Priorities into National Policy and Investment Frameworks to enhance trade capacity.

SPS are measures aimed at protecting humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.

It emerged during the deliberations that Uganda loses $60m annually in food exports to European Union due to failure to meet international standards.

“Sometimes we come up with policies but they remain at the ministry. They don’t filter down to the grassroots level,” she observed.

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“We should invest in laboratories; sensitize farmers on good practices of production and post-harvest handling using extension services,” Kyambadde emphasized.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Uganda’s livestock contributes 5 percent to the country’s GDP. The country boasts 14 million heads of cattle, 16 million goats and 4 million sheep.

The better part of this livestock is reared at a subsistence level. But lack of export abattoirs have denied Uganda a big market for beef in the European Union.

Uganda has a huge market for livestock in Vietnam (offals), Norway and Kenya but remains weak in addressing the standards.

An inspection team from European Union recently visited Uganda to assess its capacity to meet standards for agri-food exports only to find cows being slaughtered in dirty abattoirs.

It also emerged that the quality of beef remained low with an official saying, “we see the animals but we don’t see the meat.”

Farmers have since been urged to invest in fattening cows for beef exports.

Other challenges in the beef exports are lack of disease control zones and enough personnel for enforcement; outdated laws and self-medication of animals.

Horticulture

ChimpReports understands failure to uphold standards is more pronounced in the horticulture business.

Uganda exports raw mangoes to European Union. The major constraint is the fruit fly and mango seed weevil.

According to Ephrance Tumuboine, an official from the Agriculture Ministry, Uganda incurs 30-40 percent of post-harvest loss due to the seed weevil.

“For chillies and hot pepper, fruit flies and other insects (moths and butterflies) led to a self-imposed ban of exports to European Union, leading to a 25 percent reduction in notification. In 2017, there were 28 cases of fruit flies and 75 cases of moths,” said Tumuboine.

Uganda’s curry leaves exports were banned for export in UK and European Union due to insects and citrus greening disease.

Regarding bitter gourd (Karela), nine cases of non-compliance in EU were recorded in 2016.

Additionally, pesticide residues are usually found in fruits and vegetables such as mangoes and egg plants. Ocratoxin and salmonella were found in cassava, according to Tumuboine.

At the regional level, Uganda produces 10 million tonnes of bananas whereby 50 percent goes to Kenya and 22 percent to Rwanda. But spoilage remains high due to damage caused by bad access roads during transportation to markets.

Tomato, water melon and pineapple exports are constrained by perishability and over packing high costs which require investment in cold storage transport and contamination and quality control.

Tumuboine called for supply of improved planting materials and establishment of marketing structures to support value addition activities along the different fruits and vegetables value chains.

He said the high post-harvest losses, damage, bruising, rotting  and lack of cold storage need strategic intervention by supporting  fruit processing and encouraging cottage fruits and vegetables processors.

Standards a new trade barrier

COMESA officials believe the deliberations are critical in assisting countries to adopt science-based regulatory systems that ensure domestic food supplies are safe and nutritious; and also harmonize domestic regulations with international standards to improve Uganda’s ability to achieve domestic food security and trade regionally and globally.

The formal private sector demanded protection from regional governments which use “standards” to lock out their exports.

An official from Biyinzika Poultry, a poultry breeder farm which has established itself as one of the leading suppliers of day-old chicks, accused Kenya of sustaining harsh restrictions on their poultry exports.

Biyinzika exports chicks to Kenya, Rwanda and DRC.

“Despite having a modern laboratory and meeting all required standards, our exports to Kenya remain blocked. There is ambiguity in the government’s guidelines. We request government to intervene,” he added.

Uganda’s Ambassador to Tanzania, Richard Kabonero, said there is a misunderstanding on harmonization which he said doesn’t mean similar standards.

“There must be basic starting points on harmonizing so that governments know that this is applicable across the borders and this will help our farmers,” said Kabonero.

He said regional governments are now using ‘standards’ to lock out competitors.

Kabonero, who is attached to COMESA, said governments now require food traders to obtain atomic and radiation certificates and also pay application fees – a process that takes about three months.

“And most of the time, the people who issue these certificates live in capitals. Yet most of our trade is informal and across the borders. This is a big challenge. These SPS measures have become the new trade barrier tools in the region, replacing weigh bridges and tarrifs,” he added.

COMESA sanitary and phytosanitary expert Martha Byanyima expressed hope that improved dialogue between public, private and other SPS stakeholders would lead to greater investment decisions to boost trade, public health and agricultural development.

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