Kenya maize ban prompts harsh criticism

Thursday March 11 2021
maize pic

Kenya’s ban on maize imports from Tanzania and Uganda, ostensibly because of aflatoxin contamination, continued to draw the ire of commodity traders and business leaders yesterday. PHOTO | FILE

By Zephania Ubwani

Arusha. Kenya’s ban on maize imports from Tanzania and Uganda, ostensibly because of aflatoxin contamination, continued to draw the ire of commodity traders and business leaders yesterday.

The East African Law Society (EALS) said yesterday that the unilateral move by Nairobi violated the East African Community (EAC) Treaty.

EALS added that although high levels of aflatoxin contamination is lethal to human health,Tanzanian and Ugandan officials were not consulted in advance.

“There was no indication of consultation with the testing and quality standards institutions in the two affected countries,” it said in a statement to the media.

Being unilateral action, the decision by Kenya’s Customs authorities violates several key protocols of the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC.

The protocols include the Common Market Protocol,the Customs Union Protocol and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Protocol.

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EALS president Bernard Oundo described the action by Nairobi as yet another non-tariff barrier (NTB) in the region.

“The action also jeopardizes efforts towards full integration,” he said, noting that it was also against the general rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

WTO insists that even when such restrictions have to be imposed to protect the health of the people, it should not be used for protectionist purposes.

Imposing such measures arbitrarily, the Ugandan advocate insisted,would result in unnecessary barriers to regional and international trade.

Kenya halted importation of maize from Tanzania and Uganda last Friday, saying test results on maize imported from Tanzania and Uganda had shown high levels of mycotoxins.

The Kenyan Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) said maize imports from the two countries had over 2,000 parts per billion of aflatoxin.

This is against the recommended ratio of not more than 10 parts per billion. The state-run body said such levels of contamination were beyond safety limits.

The ban of maize imports by Kenya has resulted in long queues at the Namanga border town of lorries ferrying the commodity from Arusha into the neighbouring country.

Arusha maize traders interviewed said the ban was a big blow to them and that it has led to the falling price of maize due to reduced demand.

By yesterday, one bag of the cereal in markets in and around Arusha had dropped to Sh45,000 from Sh65,000 and upwards until recently.

Mr Walter Maeda, the chairperson of the Arusha Chapter of the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA), was bitter about the action taken by Nairobi.

He said the regulatory authorities of both countries should be fully involved in the tests of the maize to ensure fairness to both the consumers and traders.

Officials of the EAC Secretariat who were contacted over the crisis said they were aware of the ban and were closely monitoring the situation.

“We will soon issue a statement. The action by Kenyan was not proper,” said deputy secretary general (Planning and Infrastructure) Steven Mlote when reached on phone.

Uganda, on its part, has called a crisis meeting to settle the deadlock, saying its ministers responsible for Trade and EAC Affairs were reaching out to their Kenyan counterparts on the matter.

It is feared that if sustained, the ban would cost the Ugandan economy, currently struggling from the effects of Covid-19, $121 million a year.

As the region has yet to come up with a common position on the crisis, Burundi is also reported to have banned importation of maize from neighbouring countries due to the mycotoxins.

But EALS insisted the issue should be resolved quickly in order to foster intra-regional trade, saying the ban was part of “a negative growing trend” in the integration agenda.