The private sector in East Africa is developing a mechanism that will enable the foods and beverages industry to regulate itself on quality and standards, in the absence of national or regional (EAC) policies.
The manufacturers, importers, and distributors are now in the final stages of developing a mechanism that is aimed at enhancing conformity to food safety and quality standards demanded by national, regional, continental, and global markets.
They say that instead of relying on government agencies to enforce these standards, they, as Private Sector are developing a Self-Regulatory Framework, which should “influence value chain stakeholders to observe safety and standards that make their goods competitive in the markets and safe to out our consumers.”
The framework, according to the East African Business Council (EABC) initially targets the most traded commodities; coffee, fresh fruits, and vegetables.This is being done by EABC in partnership with GIZ Market Access Program (MARKUP).
The MARKUP Consultant on Food Safety and Quality Standards, Prof. Martin Kimanya, told a stakeholder workshop called to consider and approve the framework on self-regulation, that self-regulation should go hand in hand with the EAC’s move to harmonize standards.
He however said there are some challenges to self-regulation, including inadequate funds to build networks.
There is an ongoing process to harmonize standards amongst the EAC countries, as well as harmonize EAC standards with the international ones in an effort to facilitate trade between member states and ensure global markets remain open to EAC exporters.
John Keyser, a Senior Economist at the World Bank, says that despite the apparent advantages of having a harmonized standards regime, there are challenges associated with it.
“In the first place, compliance with standards may result in new inspection and certification requirements that add to the total costs of trade and undermine the competitiveness of food staples. Even where harmonization is intended to eliminate duplicate inspections by the exporting and importing country, this cannot always be achieved due to differences in certifying capacity,” he says in his expert note.
He also cautions that in developing and harmonizing standards, the process should take note of the ability of smallholder farmers and producers to meet the costs and to ensure that the cost of certification does not lead to a higher cost of the product.The costs, however, are outweighed by the benefits, according to him.
“The ability to comply with product standards has become an important factor in determining access to markets and, more broadly, the capacity of countries to export and involve smallholder farmers in commercial supply chains,” Keyser says.
The EABC workshop drew food standard experts, representatives of business associations from various agribusiness sub-sectors, and from the public sector.The framework developed by the private sector is expected to be ratified and domesticated at the national level.
Frank Dafa, EABC Expert on sanitary and phytosanitary standards said the implementation of a Self-Regulatory Framework is at the final level of approval by the private sector and is set to boost cross-border trade along the priority EAC value chain.“It will also ease the compliance cost and administrative requirements by regulatory agencies,” Dafa said.
Estella Aryada, the GIZ MARKUP Program Coordinator, urged Partner States to support their respective Private Sector in implementing the framework because the benefits of reduced certification costs and delays can create an environment of trust among consumers.
Ketra Nakayenga, Principal MSME, Quality Assurance and Standardization from Uganda’s Ministry of Trade, urged the private sector to encourage more scientific approaches to meet food safety and quality standards.
She said Uganda had made great strides in complying with international standards. Local, regional, and international markets rely on standards mainly for health safety by preventing foodborne diseases.
However, apart from human health, the harm resulting from foodborne hazards can lead to others like effects on trade and tourism, loss of earnings, unemployment, and legal action, among others.