In the State of the nation address, President Museveni re-echoed the need for quality products to compete favourably on the globe. His remarks perhaps are a result of the recent ban of entry of Uganda’s maize products into Kenya over quality issues. Therefore, the importance of standards cannot be underestimated. Prosper Magazine’s Richard Luyombya spoke to Mr David Livingstone Ebiru, the executive director UNBS about their plans on enhancing Uganda’s export competitiveness through standardisation. Excerpts below.
Substandard products are still a major factor that deters Uganda’s export competitiveness. Why is this so and what solutions do you have?
Previously, the major source of substandard products was through imports. But this has since changed after UNBS strengthened its compliance requirements for imported products requiring that they are inspected and tested in their countries of exports before coming to Uganda. This initiative is being done under the Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) Programme.
However, with the promotion of Buy Uganda Build Uganda which is aimed at promoting import substitution and encouraging exports of Ugandan products to regional and international markets, we have seen an increase of noncompliance to quality standards from locally manufactured products, especially by Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) who have significant challenges with capacity and resources required to put in place basic quality management systems to ensure that their products comply to the required safety and quality standards.
The solution to this remains a concerted effort to subsidise the cost of financing for these MSMEs so that they can put in place the basic quality infrastructure to support their production processes. UNBS is also supporting these MSMEs through provision and training and advisory services to build their capacity to implement quality standards. We are also working with the various associations to promote self-regulation and compliance among the players because standards benefit them more than UNBS. Access to markets is now dependent on the safety and quality of your products.
What steps have you taken in ensuring our goods are not rejected by the African Continental Free Trade Area?
UNBS is participating in the harmonisation and adoption of African Regional Standards Organisation (ARSO) continental standards which are aimed at facilitating trade in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) market. Uganda through UNBS has already adopted the highest number (58 standards) of the ARSO standards compared to any country in the continent.. This gives our exporters an advantage to commence trading in AfCFTA and these standards cover all the major sector of the economy, including food and agriculture standards, chemical products, engineering and construction and services.
UNBS introduced the compulsory distinctive mark as a measure to curb substandard products on the market. However, this problem still persists among high-risk products such as maize. What exactly is the problem?
There is still a culture of noncompliance to standards in the country, especially in the manufacturing sector. However, we sensitise them to stop looking at compliance to quality standards as a requirement by UNBS but for the market.
That said, UNBS monitors these products on the market and has been seizing and destroying those which do not comply with the required minimum safety and quality standards. We have also intensified our operations against those outlets which produce and distribute substandard products during nights, weekends, and on public holidays thinking that UNBS will not be on duty. We are working closely with Police to undertake these operations and narrow the space where these perpetrators operate.
Regarding maize, we have been engaging actors in the maize value chain to shift from selling raw grain to value addition so that they can manage the quality requirements better. We are therefore certifying the millers and processors and these numbers have significantly grown since the ban by Kenya. We have 41 companies that have been certified to process maize products and more than 150 companies are currently being supported to get certified.
The business community has complained of the long processes of certification which are also expensive. What are you doing about it?
We have simplified the certification process through automation and most of the work is now done online at the convenience of the enterprises. This has reduced the time from six months to an average of three to four months. But during this period, we have a mechanism to enable the enterprises to access the market as we finalise the certification process and these include batch certification and pre-market approval of the products. We have also revised our fees from Shs800,00 to Shs500,000 for MSMEs and from Shs1,5m to Shs1m for medium and large enterprises to promote uptake of certification services.
Several government institutions have gone digital to curb the Covid-19 spread, what measures has UNBS taken into consideration for business continuity?
UNBS is among government agencies which has heavily invested in e-services and most of our processes are now done online. We are therefore reaching the business continuity through online services such as import clearance, laboratory testing, and certification services, besides other support functions.