Dar es Salaam. Agriculture stakeholders yesterday highlighted nine issues that need to be addressed for Tanzania’s maize to penetrate the regional and international markets.
The recommendations include overcoming the challenge of aflatoxins in maize, harmonisation of internal standards to comply with international ones and cut production costs. A number of countries in the eastern and central Africa depend on Tanzania for maize but the low standards of the produce deny farmers and traders the opportunity to capture bigger markets.
Other issues to address are capacity building of value chain players on market requirements, improving compliance with standards by promoting structured trade mechanisms, as well as industry self-regulation.
The list also includes the need for the public–private partnerships (PPPs) to increase access to testing services at lower costs, increase awareness and adoption of technologies such as hermetic storage bags and Aflasafe kits, as well as working with financial sector to develop grain trade finance products.
Those who aired their views were speaking during a private sector awareness forum on food quality and safety standards for maize.
Eastern Africa Grain Council’s (EAGC) programme officer--Policy and market information management Sharifa Chikaha said the issue of compliance with quality standards needed great attention.
She said that EAGC in partnership with USAID-Nafaka carried out a grain trade facilitation project in 2020 only to realise that key challenge to trade actualization was poor quality of grain.
“Only one trader was able to successfully comply with quality requirements. Rest of the samples from other traders had high aflatoxin levels,” said Ms Chikaha.
“Some traders even refused to participate because they knew their stocks wouldn’t meet quality requirements.” In March 2021, import ban was imposed by the Kenyan government on maize coming from Tanzania and Uganda – because of food safety concerns. She said the high cost of testing of grains was to blame for non-compliance.
The Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS), for instance charges Sh290, 000 per sample of grain tested and graded as per the East African Community (EAC) Standards.
An aflatoxin test alone costs $65 (Sh150,000) per sample at TBS, while at private laboratories it is $98 (about Sh225, 400) exclusive of the value added tax.
“High levels of logistical costs in sending samples to be tested is a challenge. This became even more of a hurdle due to the Covid – 19 pandemic,” said Ms Chikaha.
“That is one, but second is the length of time taken to receive results back from the lab. The average of three to four weeks.”
If the challenges are addressed, Tanzania will stand a chance to tap business opportunities in regional maize markets.
The opportunities include surplus production in Tanzania that is coinciding with structural deficits in key regional markets. Official data shows that maize surplus in Tanzania stands at 118 percent.
Again, a favourable regional crop calendar allows for Tanzania harvests to coincide with lean season in key destination markets which include Kenya, Burundi and South Sudan. Food security director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Honest Kessy, said Tanzania was projected to produce 6.7 million tonnes of maize in the 2021 harvest season.
He said Tanzania exports to Kenya only 12 percent of the total demand which stands at 600,000 tonnes. “If we address the issue of standards and production costs we will have room to export more,” said Dr Kessy.
Tanzania Private Sector Foundation’s executive director Francis Nanai expressed the need for building a common understanding among all stakeholders.
Stakeholders to be involved on the subject of quality and importance in bringing success to the maize subsector, include the private sector, affiliated associations and the government institutions
“We need to come up with strategies on how to conduct a campaign to educate farmers on how to solve the problem of aflatoxins throughout the agriculture and business value chain,” recommended Mr Nanai.
Those to be touched, he expounded, are farmers, crop buyers, transporters, traders and final consumers.
“This is a serious business that if we do blunder, the lives of people will be at danger,” said the TPSF boss.
Agriculture Council of Tanzania (ACT) executive director Timothy Mmbaga said the challenge of aflatoxins was affecting the price and demand equilibrium of maize.
“Tanzania is a power house of food in Africa. We need to capitalise on it,” said Mr Mmbaga.
He revealed that a few days ago Egypt placed an order to purchase 10 million tonnes of maize from Tanzania.
They would start with 1 million tonnes, he explained.
Tanzania Initiative for Preventing Aflatoxin Contamination (Tanipac) coordinator Clepin Josephat from the Agriculture ministry said the government in cooperation with other development partners have committed some Sh80 billion for the program.
“Through the program, we have so far trained over 500 extension workers and over 100 journalists,” he said.
Adding: “We are looking forwards towards strengthening TBS, ZFDA (Zanzibar Food and Drug Agency (ZFDA) and Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute.”