BUSINESS

Grain dealers tipped on cross-border trade

Mr. Gilbert Sebutare, a senior agricultural inspector in the Ministry of Agriculture (PHOTO /Courtesy)

KAMPALA — The East African Grain Council (EAGC) and Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) have sensitised grain dealers on the regional and international market dynamics including key among others, Standard Operating Procedures, and cross-border trade clearances.

Mr. Nelvin Obiero, the Head of Grain Business Institute at EACG told reporters that the training seeks to sensitise the grain dealers on some of the critical areas they need to cover before enging in cross border trade.

He said the training also aims at providing information on other elements of international trade to enable traders incorporate them in their business operations.

“They need to understand the regional (EAC) approved standards that are required in the region,” Obiero said. “We want them to understand the requirements of their targeted clients in other markets beyond the region and to ensure that the commodities they trade in meet the threshold of the buyers before it leaves the storage facilities for export”.

Mr. Gilbert Sebutare, a senior agricultural inspector in the Ministry of Agriculture said the training sought to equip grain dealers on issues of sanitary and phytosanitary measures including issues around human health.

“Sanitary involves food safety issues where aflotoxin comes in. So we’re besically training the traders to understand why some of their grain consignments are rejected in international trade”, Sebutare said

“We have also trained border agencies in operationalisation of Standard Operating Procedures for clearing of grains at border posts”.

A junior official from the Ministry of East African Community Affairs said some regional governments have been taking short-term measures to block trade and thereby undoing all the efforts made towards long-term solutions.

The official urged regional government to refrain from any actions that would impede cross-border trade

In March last year, Kenya banned the importation of maize from Uganda over high levels of aflatoxin – the toxic substances in grains contaminated with fungi.

The toxin causes cancer and other health complications.

But in July, the Kenyan government revealed that they were in talks with Uganda to get maize from the country, signalling changes in quality and response to shortages being experienced across the region.

Aflatoxins are among the most poisonous mycotoxins and can grow in the soil as well as on the foodstuffs.

Research has shown that mycotoxins can damage DNA and cause cancer in animals.

Under the East African Community’s common market – which all three countries belong to – safe rules have been which set standards for aflatoxins in maize.

These vary from one jurisdiction to another.

The East Africa Community’s standard is 10 parts per billion, the US’s is 20 parts per billion while the EU standard is four parts per billion.

In the East African Community, each country enforces the safety standard. In Kenya, the ministries of agriculture and health are mandated to enforce food safety standards. These ministries collaborate with the customs authority to police food imports. The Agriculture and Food Authority, under the Ministry of Agriculture, carries out checks to ascertain the levels of aflatoxins in the food supply system.

But the systems put in place for testing are flawed. For example, Kenya does not have a standard method for sampling and testing for aflatoxins.

Experts say, this is critical because aflatoxin levels can differ between grain collected from the same sack.

This was illustrated a few years back when various government laboratories came under scrutiny over results showing different levels of aflatoxins for grain samples collected from an imported consignment.

Another challenge is that laboratories don’t all use the same protocols.

It gets murkier. Currently, important actors such as large grain milling companies conduct their own tests.

Standardising the sampling methodology would make the results more consistent.

EAGC says credibility of the results enhances food safety and certainty for grain traders and consumers.

EAGC team leader Mr. Paul Ochuna told this website early this month that the council had started with building capacity of their members and their supply chains in quality for the market and food safety standards through providing the much sought-after Post-Harvest Management training sessions.

“Effective post-harvest handling of crops is vital in cutting losses and maximising the volume of crops that smallholder farmers are able to sell,” Mr. Ochuna said.

Farmers in Uganda mainly grow maize as a cash crop and Kenya is a key market destination.

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