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Grain council tasks gov’t to streamline maize trade

90 percent of Uganda’s maize going to Kenya was exported informally

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Grain Council of Uganda has called for the government’s urgent intervention into the maize trade which it says is currently dominated by informal dealings. Chris Kaijuka, the chairperson of the Grain Council of Uganda says that 90 percent of Uganda’s maize going to Kenya is exported informally, something he describes as unfortunate.

This comes a day after Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority announced a ban on the importation of maize from Uganda citing high levels of mycotoxins that are beyond safety limits. In a March 5th, 2021 letter, Kello Harsama, Kenya’s Acting Director-General Agriculture and Food Authority says that they have been conducting surveillance on the safety of food exports to Kenya and that test results for maize imported from Uganda and Tanzania revealed high levels of mycotoxins.

“Mycotoxins, particularly aflatoxins and fumonisins are known to be carcinogenic. Over the years, a number of acute and chronic aflatoxin related illness cases have been recorded in Kenya including deaths,” reads part of the letter addressed to Pamela Ahago, the Commissioner of Customs Kenya Revenue Authority.

According to the World Health Organisation, mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by moulds (fungi) and can be found in food. The moulds grow on different crops and foodstuffs including cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits, apples and others, often under warm and humid conditions.

In his letter, Kello informs Ahago that the Authority has stopped any further maize imports with immediate effect. “The Republic of Kenya is however committed to facilitating safe trade with her trading partners and look forward to working closely with all stakeholders to address the concern,” further reads the letter.

Kaijuka told URN that the decision by Kenya was unfortunate but not surprising. “About two weeks back in the Business Journal, Kenya stated that they were receiving so much maize from Uganda and Tanzania up to six-folds of what they have ever received during this kind of time. We are now in March, from January, a lot of maize has been going to Kenya from Uganda…a lot on daily basis, which is okay,” he said.

Kaijuka adds that the unfortunate thing is that the maize which has been going to Kenya was being bought from rural areas by Kenyan traders and transported by Kenyan trucks. He argues that this process has been over 90 percent informal and that it should be a concern for Uganda.

Kaijuka also said that Kenya’s complaint about mycotoxins is grave and should be investigated by the government. He however faulted Kenya for failure to provide evidence, saying it could be a ploy to give Kenyan farmers a chance to sell their maize.

He however hastened to add that this is a lesson for Uganda to work towards selling good quality maize to Kenya directly.

Robert Kasule Ssebunya, chairperson of the Tourism, Trade and Industry Committee of parliament agrees with Kaijuka, saying Kenya’s complaint could be a pointer to the post-harvest handling challenges in the country.

Ssebunya also cites the need for the government to intervene and ensure that maize exports to Kenya are streamlined so that traders from Kenya do not deal directly with Ugandan farmers.

A recent report by Kenya’s Business Daily indicates that maize imports from Uganda rose five-fold in January compared to a similar period last year as traders and millers rushed to bring in Kenya the grain in anticipation of a shortage.

Data from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture indicated that the volume of maize brought into Kenya went up to 523,000 bags during the review period from 101,000 in January 2020, an increase of 418 percent.

Uganda has for the past few months been harvesting maize. Kenya serves as a major market for the country in the East African region. According to the Business Daily, most stocks from Uganda and Tanzania are supplied by brokers.

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