KAMPALA — Ugandan grain farmers have for long failed to penetrate markets beyond the region due to poor quality grain coupled with issues of aflatoxins among other challenges.
The East African Grain Council (EAGC) has embarked on a campaign to find solutions to majority of grain producers’ challenges ranging from difficulty to meet sanitary and phytosanitary standards required to export goods beyond the region including Europe and the United States.
EAGC team leader Mr. Paul Ochuna, said that council has started with building capacity of their members and their supplier chains in quality for the market and food safety standards through providing the much sought-after Post-Harvest Management training sessions.
The improved storage and aggregation of grains were on the agenda of three-day training session organised by the EAGC—targeting cooperatives, agricultural extension and warehouse workers in Uganda.
“Effective post-harvest handling of crops is vital in cutting losses and maximising the volume of crops that smallholder farmers are able to sell,” Mr. Ochuna who speaking to reporters at the close of the session said.
The training helps rice, maize and beans farmers in Uganda to sell more produce for higher prices to markets across eastern Africa.
Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have recently eased restrictions on the trade of staple crops across common borders. The promotion of trade within eastern Africa is seen as a significant step towards tackling stubborn levels of poverty and malnutrition in the region.
While Tanzania and Uganda usually produce a surplus of staple foods, Kenya only grows enough to feed itself one year in every five.
Relaxed trading barriers, experts say, present an opportunity for Ugandan smallholders to access lucrative Kenyan markets. However, practical challenges often prevent smallholders from capitalising upon new markets.
Poorly managed storage and aggregation systems as well as inefficient post-harvest handling practices are a major challenge to smallholders looking to penetrate new markets, ” Ochuna said, adding that addressing quality challenges is a major priority for the council at the moment.
The three-day training sessions equipped community-led agricultural cooperatives, store and warehouse managers with the skills and resources to safely store their produce, a necessity for farmers looking to bring their crops to market for a good price.
“The training provides targeted beneficiaries with the tools and knowledge they need to access important regional markets.” Ochuna said.
Extending good agricultural practice
For the past two days, Ugandan National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and Makere University delivered training sessions for the targeted beneficiaries —developing their skills to train trainers and warehouse managers in the effective harvesting and handling of grains including the drying, grading and treatment of grains and testing aflatoxin levels using scientific techniques.
Warehouses play a vital role in ensuring that increases in production actually reach the market, allowing farmers to be financially rewarded for their hard work and boosting food security for those who rely on their produce.
The other areas sessions focused on effective crop storage, ranging from weighing produce, improving the drying process and controlling the moisture content of crops with Council emphasing that well-run warehouses unlock a wide range of benefits for smallholder farmers.
Mr. Stanley Ahimbisibwe, the Assistant commissioner Quality Assurance and Standardization in the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives said government working with development partners is taking deliberate measures address grain quality challenges.
“We are looking at how grain millers can penetrate both local and international markets by ensuring that the products are of good quality,” he said.
He said government wants sure that both the country and the region are food secure and the masses are healthy.
“We want to ensure that the quality of the grains is super and we must address poor post haversting, process and marketing,” he said, adding that the training sought to help the millers improve on their quality by sensitising them about issues of aflatoxin.