By Prossy Nandudu
Limited awareness of standards among people in the maize trade business and the absence of incentive to invest in practices that lead to compliance to standards is to blame for economic losses farmers incur whenever maize is rejected by the buyer.
Rejection of grains means loss of trade opportunities, low pay to farmers due to costs incurred by processors while improving the quality of grains like sorting, cleaning, drying, storage among others.
This was revealed by Daniel Njiwa, the head of Regional Food Trade at AGRA Africa while concluding a one-week tour of members of The Grain Council of Uganda.
The tour was aimed at assessing the impact of a project titled “Improving Compliance with Maize Quality Standards along Trade Corridors in East Africa.
The program was launched in 2021 by AGRA with support from the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) and USAID through The Eastern African Grain council (EAGC) and The Grain Council of Uganda (TGCU) as the implementing partners.
The aim was for participating organizations to create buyer-seller linkages for trade in quality maize along the two trade corridors in East Africa, which are Uganda-Kenya and Tanzania-Kenya corridors.
Participating organizations were also required to establish supplier Clusters in Uganda and Tanzania composed of exporters and farmer groups in Eastern, Western and Northern parts of Uganda, and then Southern and Northern Highland zones of Tanzania.
Before the intervention, it was estimated that Uganda and Tanzania were losing approximately US$ 16 million and 5.3 million, respectively, due to reduced value of agricultural exports resulting from poorly handled grains, in particular aflatoxin contamination.
That is why large scale millers in Kenya rejected 19% of maize deliveries equivalent to approximately 2,800MT of maize worth overU$932,000 in 2015 due to poor quality and higher levels of aflatoxins, according to reports from the Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC).
Therefore, the investment according to Njiwa was aimed at addressing quality issues and enforcing standards along the maize value chain because most of the maize produced in Uganda ends up in the regional market.
“So coming here in Uganda, we really wanted to appreciate the kind of relationships that aggregators have established with small holder farmers, types of services offered in order to improve the handling of maize right from the farm to the market,” said Njiwa.
He however added through his assessment of farmers participating in the project, the knowledge has been given and that they now know what needs to be done but there is no drive to increase investments in the additional services like equipment.
“The information has filtered through and they know what is required. It is now on the other end of investment where aggregators could go beyond what they are doing to reach out to farmers with additional services like equipment to reduce quality concerns in the market,” Njiwa added.
He gave an example of a lady in Mubende who is in the process of supplying maize to Aponye LTD and is requesting for only one tarpaulin to help during harvest and drying of maize to maintain the quality and standard needed by the off taker.
How off takers are helping farmers.
To ensure that farmers embrace standards, Wilson Tumwiine the operations manager at Askar General Merchandise in Mityana district said that they train farmers right from the field all through the harvest season so as to maintain the quality of maize.
“The training is conducted in the local language depending on the areas where farmers are located, accompanied with posters with illustrations on how to maintain the quality of agricultural produce, ” explained Tumwiine.
Other targets to TGCU members include creating awareness of aflatoxins and management practices, popularizing the importance of Aflasafe, a biological control product, to counter aflatoxins, and also work with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to increase awareness of existing maize standards among others.