Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has announced that the country will soon export more products than it imports, and be free from substandard products in the next few years, thanks to the regional food safety testing laboratories.
Speaking at the launch of the regional food safety testing laboratory in Mbarara last Friday, the UNBS executive director David Livingstone Ebiru noted that local manufacturers no longer have any excuse of not obtaining a quality mark on their products since services have been brought closer.
“These laboratories are designed with modern technology that conforms to the East African Community standards, which means that all commodities certified by these labs can be sold within the member states of the East African Community and beyond,” Ebiru said.
“In the next five years, we believe that locally-made products will increase and substitute all imported products. We will see more Ugandan products with internationally acceptable standards and less of imports of the same,” he said.
The Mbarara laboratory is the latest to be launched by UNBS under their decentralization strategy aimed at easing the business environment. The laboratories come with modern equipment to test food and non-food products such as edible fats and oils, milk and milk products, water, fruits and vegetables, honey, cereals and cereal products, grains and animal products, and plastics, among others.
According to Ebiru, these laboratories are funded by the Danish government through TradeMark East Africa who have provided equipment worth $4.4m (about Shs 16bn) to the bureau.
In this spirit, Anna Nambooze, the TradeMark East Africa country director for Uganda and South Sudan, noted that the reason for financing these laboratories is to eradicate non-conformity and promote exports.
According to UBOS statistics, the value of horticultural exports (fruits, flowers and vegetables) from Uganda from 2014 to 2018 stood at an average worth of $77.5 million per year.
However, during the same period, over 500 consignments worth $12m were condemned due to their being non-conforming to the sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) standards of the destined export markets, and destroyed at an average cost of Euros 200 per consignment, which was also borne by the Ugandan exporters.
“The lack of sufficient quality infrastructure such as laboratory services has provided an additional bottleneck towards streamlining cross-border trade and thus further hindering the competitiveness of Ugandan products at both regional and international trade levels. For Ugandan produce to compete in the AfCFTA [African Continental Free Trade Area] and abroad, the products must meet the required standards,” Nambooze said.
Ebiru then warned that non-compliant manufacturers face prosecution.
“We, therefore, expect voluntary compliance from these enterprises to ensure all these products are certified. That said, we have also decentralized our market surveillance operations to these regions to enforce compliance of enterprises who don’t wish to voluntarily comply. We are now much better equipped to adequately safeguard Ugandans from counterfeits,” he said.
“Going forward, appropriate sanctions will be taken against non-complying manufacturers/enterprises, including suspension of their operations, closure and prosecution.”
The Ugandan market continues to be saturated with substandard products mainly because of the huge costs involved in obtaining a UNBS Q-Mark such as long distances, high certification costs, and longer turnaround times. However, with these regional labs, Ebiru is confident this problem will soon become history.
To further reduce time wasting, Ebiru noted that they are now using a computerized system where they post all test results in real time and as soon as the final result is out, it is sent straight to the email of the manufacturer. So, they no longer have to come back to UNBS offices for results.
The Mbarara launch was presided over by the Trade minister Francis Mwebesa who further urged manufacturers to procure equipment that can test for the minimum quality requirements of their products before taking them to UNBS offices. He said this would reduce on the ‘fail’ rate.
“For those that can’t get testing equipment, the government authorized other private laboratories to conduct quality assurance tests for manufacturers. This means that before bringing their samples to UNBS for certification, manufacturers can first conduct tests with these facilities and ensure that the product they bring to UNBS has a high chance of passing, which will, in turn, reduce the load at UNBS laboratories,” he said.
Ebiru said the next phase will target Rwenzori and West Nile sub-regions to bring services closer.
“We also want to provide mobile laboratories with equipment to test and give instant results. We have reduced the cost of certification and we have even granted 300 free certification to SMEs with support from MasterCard and Private Sector Foundation,” he said, calling on companies to use their online platform to apply for certification without having to go to UNBS offices.