Standards body warned against harassment of farmers

Aug 16, 2023

This was raised during a panel discussion on accelerating the implementation of the African coffee standards under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) at Speke Resort Munyonyo last Thursday.

A man spreads coffee parchment on a tarpaulin to dry in Buluganya sub-county, Bulambuli district.

Prossy Nandudu
Journalist @New Vision

Standards bodies have been cautioned against harassment of farmers when enforcing standards. The caution was made by Dr Hermogene Nsengimana, the secretary general of the African Organisation for Standards (ARSO).

They are accused of closing and demanding for payments whenever they come across a processing mill or coffee roaster that does not meet the set standards.

The practice has locked out mainly small-scale farmers and enterprises that are trying to add value to various commodities, including coffee.

This was raised during a panel discussion on accelerating the implementation of the African coffee standards under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) at Speke Resort Munyonyo last Thursday.

The panel was part of the just concluded G-25 African Coffee summit that kicked off on August 7 and is expected to end on 10, under the theme Transforming the African Coffee Sector Through Value Addition.

“Regulators work like Police, when we find a roasting machine or mill that does not meet our standards, we just close it,” Nsengimana said.

He explained that the best way to enforce standards is by showing people the right standards coupled with information on the right procedures, right machinery including steps of acquiring the recommended machinery.

There is need to ensure that smallholder farmers, who form the biggest part of the coffee growing population, produce the coffee while taking into account the new regulations, for example from the European Union, which is the Environmental, social and governance (ESG) regulation.

Nsegimana added that the regulation that assesses an organisation’s business practices and performance on various sustainability standards will soon be a requirement by the European Union when accessing products from African countries.

He, however, added that at continental level, a standard is being developed that is in line with sustainability, taking into account views from the farming communities and private sector, among other stakeholders to guide the certification team.

Address language barrier

However, for all standards to work, developers must simplify the scientific terms, but also translate them in a language best understood by the target audience.

“The science may not be understood by the users. If you take a standard that is complicated to the user, they will not use it,” Nsegimana said.

For the continent to implement or even develop a continental coffee standard, Andrew Othieno, the manager Standards at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, called for collaboration among the coffee growing countries to develop coffee standards.

He said at African level, there are about seven standards that have been finalised and a few relate to products from value-added products, such as instant coffee, liquid coffee and flavoured coffee.

“Going forward, collaborations will be key in developing a continental coffee standard, which will be backed up with the establishment of regional coffee authorities to work on a common position,” Othieno said.

Rashida Nakabuga, the Rainforest Alliance country director in Uganda, called for the consideration of women, youth and human rights issues, such as child labour, when developing the new standard for coffee at regional level.

Cecilia Katina from Kenya requested for information on how the new standard on coffee will work with the African Standards Organisation and the International Organisation for Standards (ISO).

Barigye Charles from Mitooma Coffee Co-operative, advised standards bodies against creating a uniform standard for all African countries, arguing that each region has different factors that influence the quality of coffee produced.

“My appeal is this coffee standard should not be uniform because we are having environment changes that will affect coffee grown in Uganda making it different from coffee grown in another part of Africa. So, using one standard as a quality parameter may not work,” Barigye said.

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