In 2018, Kenya turned away 600,000 tons of maize from Uganda because it wasn’t good enough and had dangerous aflatoxins.
The problem, experts say, is that maize is being sold from farms without being properly picked, dried, checked, and packed.
When maize is sold this way, it may not have dried properly, making it get moldy or rotten. It might even touch the ground, allowing germs to grow, including the fungus that makes aflatoxins in the grain.
Also, there are no checks to see if the grain is good because everything happens on the farm.
This bad practice is causing maize from Uganda to be rejected by other markets nearby, all because of poor quality and aflatoxin contamination.
The Eastern Africa Grain Council’s country manager, Emmanuel Asiimwe, said all this at the 10th Africa Grain Summit in Kampala on Thursday. People from Brazil, the UK, Italy, Germany, Ethiopia, and eastern and southern Africa came to the summit.
He said, “People just come to Uganda, buy maize from farms, and go back. Nobody tracks them, and nobody checks the quality. Because of this informal way, banks hesitate to invest money in grain trade because it might get rejected.”
He added that making the grain trade more formal needs to happen soon. This way, technology can be used to tackle problems like aflatoxin contamination and quality issues.
Earlier this year, 70 trucks of maize meant for South Sudan got rejected and stayed at the border for two months. South Sudan said the maize had aflatoxins, which can be poisonous and cause liver cancer, weak immunity, stunted growth, and even death in animals.
In 2018, Kenya said no to 600,000 tons of Ugandan maize because of poor quality and aflatoxin issues, among other problems.
Information from the International Food Policy Research Institute and the National Agriculture Research Organisation shows that 40% of goods in African markets have too much aflatoxin. Uganda loses up to $38 million every year in export trade because of this.
How Other Countries Deal with the Issue
In Tanzania, the government has stopped foreigners from going to farms to buy grain from farmers. They must become a local company in Tanzania, get a trade export license, and a certificate saying the grain is safe before they can sell it out of Tanzania. Foreign companies can’t go to Tanzanian farms to buy grain either.
The Tanzania government has also given money to the Tanzania Grain Reserve Agency to buy grain and keep it safe in their storage for buyers.
Emmanuel Asiimwe said, “Through this summit, we want our policymakers to make rules on how informal grain trade can be handled to bring order to the grain market.”
Other issues faced by the sector include Ugandan grain traders not following the grain standards that Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda enforce.
Joshua Mutambi, who oversees small and medium businesses, said grain traders should follow the rules both in Uganda and the region if they want to compete in the regional market.
To meet the standards, he said they should use technologies displayed at the summit, like storage bags, grain driers, aflatoxin management tech, smallholder farmer machinery, and silos.
He also said that Uganda makes 5 metric tons of grain, with maize being the most. Half of it stays in Uganda, and the rest gets sold abroad, making the country earn between sh8 to 10 billion every year.