Restrictions faced by traders moving their maize across eastern and southern African markets are set to ease after six countries agreed to recognise one another’s quality certificates.
The Comesa Mutual Recognition Framework (C-MRF) signed recently in Kampala, Uganda, seeks to eliminate multiple testing by both the exporting and importing countries.
The six comprise Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe where the framework will be piloted. Kenya mainly imports its maize from Uganda, Zambia and Malawi.
For conformity assessment, the C-MRF will be adopted by the member states through Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).
Among the C-MRF key components are common grading criteria, proficiency testing for aflatoxin analysis and a risk-based sampling protocol.
The MRAs will entail member states accepting each other’s conformity assessment and grading systems to avoid subjecting maize products to unnecessary and overlapping conformity assessment and grading procedures.
Comesa Director of Agriculture and Industry Thierry Kalonji said the regulatory barriers could be blamed on varied technical capacities across the region.
“Without mutual recognition of standards and certificates of analysis, regulatory barriers persist; causing an unpredictable regulatory environment that comes at a high cost to traders and contributes to the growing informal trade, now estimated at over 80 per cent in some countries,” he said.
Mr Kalonji said the lack of mutual recognition of technical standards and conformity assessment (testing and certification) was a persistent non-tariff barrier.
As it is, Comesa member states with developed food control systems face difficulties trading with those with weak systems.
This means that staple foods crossing borders are subjected to conformity assessment procedures that come at a high cost to traders. Despite agreements at the regional level within Comesa, custom documents and procedures have posed a hindrance to smooth regional trade.
In 2004, Ministers of agriculture from Comesa member states endorsed the strategy of “Maize without borders” whose key features was to remove maize cross border movement barriers.
The decision was reached in recognition of the fact that maize is a staple food crop whose availability equates food security across most regional countries. A report by Comesa presented in April 2015 cited Kenya as a maize deficit country, supplementing its stocks through imports from Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia.
In 2014/2015 financial year, the Kenya maize deficit gap was 900,000 tonnes.
All maize imported into the country, including from East African Community (EAC) partner states, is subjected to conformity assessment checks against the East Africa Standard (EAS 2:2013) related to broken and discoloured grains, moisture content and Aflatoxin limits.