UGANDA – SOUTH SUDAN TRADE WAR: Ugandan Maize Exports Contaminated

by Christopher Kiiza
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Tests have confirmed that Ugandan maize exports to South Sudan contain high levels of aflatoxins.

The tests were conducted following heightened trade tensions between two East African Community allies after South Sudan impounded dozens of Uganda cargo trucks exporting goods to Juba.

Over 90 Ugandan registered trucks transporting maize flour and other foodstuffs were held by South Sudan Bureau of Standards in an isolated parking in South Sudan, on their way to Juba from Nimule in May.

The South Sudan government claimed that the trucks had been impounded for carrying aflatoxin affected maize flour which is not fit for human consumption.

The Uganda government in June wrote to South Sudan suggesting various remedies to solve the crisis.

In a June 5 letter, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, Edith Mwanje called on South Sudan to make use of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) Laboratory facility in Gulu that was provided by TradeMark Africa (TMA) in July 2022 to check and confirm that the cargo poses no health threat, and is safe for human consumption.

Uganda also called on South Sudan to allow the truck drivers to offload the maize flour in a particular designated area and South Sudan Bureau of Standards continues with their investigation into the quality of the maize flour.

Uganda further called on its neighbor to release both the trucks and drivers to come back to Uganda for other businesses.

However, South Sudan turned a deaf ear, and never responded to Uganda’s requests.

This prompted Uganda’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Community Affairs, Rebecca Kadaga to write directly to her South Sudanese counterpart, Deng Alor Kuol to unconditionally release all the trucks with their goods and allow them back back to Uganda.

However, South Sudan remained defiant. South Sudan did not only decline Uganda’s request to allow Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to conduct an independent testing of goods, but also refused to release the trucks back to Uganda.

South Sudan authorities also reportedly denied Ugandan officials access to the impounded trucks so they could get samples for independent testing.

DIPLOMACY & RELEASE OF 23 TRUCKS

Last week, Uganda decided to resolve the dispute diplomatically. Uganda government dispatched a delegation to South Sudan and also announced to take the matter to the East African Community (EAC) to find a solution to the impasse.

A joint delegation from Uganda led by the Senior Presidential Advisor and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development (PACEID), Odrek Rwabwogo travelled to Elegu-Nimule Border on 8th July, 2023 to negotiate the release of trucks that are loaded with assorted foodstuffs back to Uganda by the Authorities in the Republic of South Sudan.

The Ugandan delegation included representatives from the Ministries of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives; Foreign Affairs; East African Community Affairs; Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS); Uganda Revenue Authority (URA); Private Sector Foundation of Uganda (PSFU); The Grain Council of Uganda (TGCU) and the Millers.

Although there are over ninety trucks affected, the negotiations resulted in the release of only twenty-three trucks which were still at Nimule Border on the South Sudan side while those inside South Sudan were yet to be released.

SAMPLE TESTS

Of the 23 trucks released were confined to the Uganda Revenue Authority parking yard at Elegu one stop border post where sampling of the consignments was undertaken by Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and witnessed by experts from the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat.

The 23 trucks were carrying 27 assorted consignments which include maize grain, milled maize (corn), dry beans, sorghum grains, cassava flour and finger millet grains. The above commodities were analysed using the applicable Uganda harmonised East African standards.

The analysis was undertaken in accordance with International Organization for Standardization – ISO 16050, Foodstuffs – Determination of Aflatoxin B1 and the Total Content of Aflatoxin B1, B2, G1 and G2 in Grains, Cereals, Nuts and Derived Products, using the High Performance Liquid Chromatographic (HPLC) Method.

Aflatoxin B1 is the most highly toxic and carcinogenic compound produced by certain fungi that contaminate crops such as maize (corn) and other grains. It is classified as a known human carcinogen and can cause liver cancer and other health issues.

CONFIRMATION OF AFLATOXINS IN MAIZE

UNBS has now confirmed that Uganda’s maize tested is contaminated with aflatoxins.

“Four out of eight consignments of maize grains failed with the highest levels of Aflatoxin which exceed the regulatory limits. One out of 12 consignments of maize flour failed the aflatoxin test,” the UNBS Executive Director, David Livingstone Ebiru told reporters in Kampala on Saturday.

However, Ebiru noted that all the two consignments of beans, three consignments of sorghum, one consignment of millet grains, and one consignment of cassava flour passed the aflatoxin test.

Accordingly, the twenty-two consignments which passed the Aflatoxin Test will be released to the owners for further management, while the five consignments which failed the test will be seized at Elegu Border pending their disposal.

Ebiru advised traders dealing in the supply of the above commodities to comply with the requirements of safety and quality standards, adding that they must seek certification of such commodities from UNBS before putting them on both the domestic and export market.

“Therefore, any commodities found on the market which do not conform to the required quality standards will be seized and destroyed by UNBS. The Bureau together with other regulatory agencies will intensify monitoring of exports at the exit points to ensure that they conform to the required quality standards before leaving the country,” he said.

SUSPENSION OF EXPORTS TO SOUTH SUDAN

Last week, Ugandan traders announced that they had stopped exporting goods of all forms to South Sudan following the continued detention of over 74 trucks. The strike started on Tuesday, and would continue until Juba unconditionally released all the trucks and the cargo in them.

Several towns in Uganda such as Mbale, Jinja, Tororo and Kampala have trucks that were destined for South Sudan parked. Other trucks are parked at the border town of Elegu.

Ugandan truck drivers also accuse South Sudan authorities of charging them visa fees to allow them entry into South Sudan yet both countries are member states of the East African Community.

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