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May 09, 2010

East Africa sets maize standards

by John Kasozi

The East Africa Grain Council has unveiled a standards guide for the maize sub-sector in the region. "Our grains have failed to penetrate the international market because of poor quality," Baker Beehamya, the council director, said.
"The guide is aimed at improving quality and productivity in the East African region. Its prepared as a support base for training farmers and staff of the large-scale maize growers and traders."

The East African Community maize quality standards guide was unveiled at a cereal stakeholders' workshop at Metropole Hotel in Kampala.

The guide contains key information for maize grain quality trainers. It is also the primary source of practical knowledge on good agricultural practices, maize farming and quality assurance for the region.

Okaasai Opolot, the commissioner for crop production and marketing in the agriculture ministry, said ensuring a high quality of maize was important as it is an essential food and cash crop in the region.

"The guide will ensure standards are met in the whole maize value-chain from planting materials, agronomic practices, harvesting, post-harvesting handling, packaging and transportation," he said. "Last season, all the five EAC countries had a bumper harvest, but because of the poor grain handling, they didn't gain much from it."

Opolot, however, added that there was need for improved infrastructure if grain standards were to be maintained. He noted that value addition should also be encouraged in the quest for better grain standards. "Value addition improves the shelf-life of the grain and promotes inter-state trade. Otherwise, we risk food insecurity," the commissioner explained.

Dr. Claude Mosha, the Tanzania Bureau of Standards chief standards officer, said food must be safe and of good quality to be marketable. "We have to look at the different grain quality requirements if we have to succeed in trade," he advised.

He said apart from maize being a staple food in the region, it is a food security crop. Mosha revealed that eating of mouldy maize causes throat cancer.

He said the EAC standard committee was planning to set a standards guide for cassava and potatoes. The regional grain council promotes approaches to trade that help farmers, traders, suppliers, processors and consumers transform their business life through the warehouse receipt system.

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