Farmers do not understand international food standards

By Carol Kasujja

Added 23rd July 2019 02:28 PM

Trade analysis reports for the past 5 years indicate that that food item and agricultural raw materials accounted for 51% of the region’s total exports between 2013 and 2017.

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Trade analysis reports for the past 5 years indicate that that food item and agricultural raw materials accounted for 51% of the region’s total exports between 2013 and 2017.

East African Farmers who grow cocoa, coffee, horticultural products, and spices do not understand international food standards. A report by EU-EAC Market Access Upgrade Programme (MARKUP) has revealed.
Agriculture is one sector where the EAC countries have a competitive advantage in both the regional and international markets. Trade analysis reports for the past 5 years indicate that that food item and agricultural raw materials accounted for 51% of the region’s total exports between 2013 and 2017.
According to the report, EAC exports are dominated by raw agricultural commodities, However, the competitiveness of the agricultural products from the EAC is largely affected by low awareness on the importance of standards, as a result, the EAC countries have not tapped into the economic benefits associated with trading agricultural produce in the regional and international markets.
This was revealed at the National workshop on assessment of status and needs for effective participation of private and public sector organization in harmonization of East Africa food standards.
Speaking at the function, Dr. Abel Atukwase, the Dean School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bioengineering at Makerere University noted that there is need to create awareness among all value chain actors on the importance of standards to trade and their impact on prices. This would help in ensuring good quality coffee without any friction between the regulator and value chain actors.
“Majority of the issues related to poor quality and failure to conform to standards happen during production where the bulk of the value chain actors operate. There is need to build capacity of all the stakeholders to appreciate quality and how it can be built within the entire value chain. Once quality is guaranteed, conforming to standards at all levels would not be challenge at all.” Noted Dr. Atukwase.
During the workshop, it was revealed that limited private sector participation during standards development is one of the biggest challenges that is still hindering standards implementation.
“We usually invite private sectors to help us develop some of these food standards, but when they come they do not participate effectively,” said David Eboku, the Standards Manager at Uganda National Bureau of Standard.
However, the private sector people said that they do not understand because they are expensive for them and the language is also hard.
“I am involved in horticultural products but to get standards for each fruit, you have to pay, the standards are lengthy and expensive. You cannot buy standards for every fruit you produce,” noted Hasifa Tushabe, the director of Uganda fruits and Vegetable Exporters Association.
In her remarks, Teopista Nakkungu, the executive director of International Women Coffee Alliance, noted that farmers are not aware of the standards because they are never consulted for advice when setting up some of these standards.
“In most cases, the stakeholders engagement get to consult us at the last level when nothing can be changed, that is why when we attend some of those standards meetings we just go silent. In villages, we just get to see the people who implement these standards when they are arresting people for faulting, we should be considered for sensitastion meetings so that we get to understand the standards,” said Nakkungu.
Nakkungu said that if Government wants all farmers to understand standards, they should establish a local resource center as a means to provide information to all people in all languages. Government should also verify products at affordable prices because they are so many tests that have to be done especially for coffee.
Eva Mbanona, the general manager of Esco Uganda Ltd said that as farmers they rarely attend standards meetings because as private sectors when they spend time in meetings they lose money.
“Most public sector attends standards meetings because they are sure of their allowances at the end of the day, for us as farmers, we miss out on the meetings because we are the money makers, when we attend these meetings, we lose business so we are calling upon people who set standards, to come down on the ground and gather information and find out our challenges as farmers so that we are helped,” said Mbanona.
Addressing guests, Gordon Katwirembo, the quality assurance officer at Uganda Coffee Development Authority noted that the biggest problem is lack of awareness among farmers that is why their goods never make it to the International market, in order to help them compete, standards should populise the standards among farmers, the language should be simplified.
The report also states that private sector stakeholders should be encouraged to develop their own standards.
“Put in place a comprehensive and sustainable training program for the key-value chain actors on standards development. Both government and private sector should be encouraged to budget and provide more resources for participation in standard-setting especially at regional and international levels,” reads the report.
Justine Wangila, the Monitoring and Evaluation expert of EU-EAC Market Access Upgrade Programme (MARKUP) said that engagement of the stakeholders in the entire process of regional standards-setting, harmonisation and implementation will help farmers compete at International level.

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