Weak regulation of chemicals bringing deaths to our doorsteps

Thursday October 31 2019

Karoli Ssemogerere

Karoli Ssemogerere 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

I live in Farmville, an utopia where we grow crops, tend trees and animals. Farmville is a global marketplace for some of the biggest corporations. Corning, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Du Pont. It produces a number of essential products for Farmville, insect repellents, weed inhibitors, lots of fertilisers (liquid and granular) not to mention acaricides and other products consumed by livestock.

In many countries, these inputs are a healthy source of tax revenue. Like all imports in Uganda, they are subject to 18 per cent VAT in addition to custom duties. So this is a profitable venture for government.

Big Farm works just like Big Pharma; it has seized the moment. Global warming has unleashed ferocious weeds that potentially can strangle entire fields into disuse if not attended to. Many GMO products like tomatoes and fresh vegetables rely exclusively on chemicals for relief from this real world vermin in the forms of pests.

Very few tomato farmers that flood our markets every season can grow without excessive application of pesticides. Unfortunately, no one has ever registered the inventory of farmers that enter and leave the business after dangerous exposure to chemicals.

Two popular products glyphophosate (sold as weedmaster) and roundup have and less of DDT are major items on our market. Agrichemicals in Uganda arrive in container loads and are mixed in large warehouses in the commercial centre Kampala.

The responsibility for inspecting, labelling, quality control and user education is the National Drugs Authority and the Agricultural Chemicals Board of the Ministry of Agriculture. On paper, this seems sufficient but these bodies don’t have capacity to inspect the point where these chemicals enter the human stream or market.


Most regulators in Uganda rely on paper standards and certificates of origin that accompany the initial cargo from the country of initial manufacture. Any person can purchase this cargo on landing if they have the availability to pay 60 to 70 per cent in taxes, especially if the initial importer fails to pay taxes and wants to avoid incurring additional demurrage.
Importers due to high exchange rate, financing costs are a soft target for URA and its little surprise that agency traders like KACITA are up in arms over pre-importation tax requirement of 100 per cent. URA prefers this approach that impoverishes traders because it does not have the capacity to collect domestically fragmented tax bills.

However, the ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry; Water, Environment and Health are sleeping on the switch. The high cost of chemicals are starting to kill our people. Solid particle pollution is a major source of inflammation of airways, lungs and a major cause of respiratory illnesses and skin inflammation.

The second most dangerous effect of these chemicals is contamination of water sources from leaching of over-applied chemicals.

Nema, who manage the environmental audit process, seem to have very little appetite for actual on spot testing of water sources. Water contamination has a long gestation period. The industrial waste has contended for decades with a number of rising disorders, lead contamination, asbestos contamination and other forms of metal pollutants. Left to flourish, the chemicals become dangerous acids.

On a trip in Farmville on Monday, I stopped by my usual supplier, Kenfarm in Kajjansi Town Council in the middle of town. The smiling shop attendant welcomed me, then informed me that Ken, the shop proprietor, was in intensive care at Nakasero Hospital after his lungs collapsed.

Ken sells both plant and animal chemical supplies. Ken had developed severe asthma, a loss of breathing function. His hospital stay at Nakasero a poor substitute for Mulago had run up UGX 12 million in about 6 days. Doctors correctly pointed out that prolonged chemical exposure had exacerbated the situation yet it looks like he was exposed to a single dose of a poisonous substance given the severity of the reaction.

As I write, NDA, Nema Agricultural Chemicals are yet to show up. The shop must up its sales. Ken is lying motionless in an ICU bed!

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.