Experts have advised countries in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) region to invest in food safety and animal and plant health to increase market access for agricultural produce.
Animal and plant health measures, also known as sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS), have largely received low investment because governments in the Comesa region assume this is an area for the private sector.
Comesa assistant secretary general Kigyego Cheluget said lack of investment in SPS affects countries’ trade with each other and is a major contributor to the continent’s importation of agricultural produce worth $35 billion.
Dr Cheluget said the failure to harmonise SPS measures leads to the creation of trade barriers, as goods can be stopped from moving from Tanzania to Kenya or vice versa because the two countries use different standards. This also affects the ability of Comesa countries to access some high value markets like the EU and the US.
Martha Byanyima, the head of Comesa sanitary and phytosanitary, said some markets have been blocked because there are no harmonised standards that can be followed in case of an audit.
She highlighted the case of South Africa, which does not import many agricultural products from the rest of the continent.
“South Africa is a big market that is not trading with Comesa because they don’t trust partner states’ practices,” she said.
Ms Byanyima said availability of a reference laboratory system that would ensure food, plants and animals coming out of Comesa are clean and don’t carry diseases would open up South Africa, which has a GDP of $349.4 billion, making it the second biggest market in Africa after Nigeria.
Only Kenya exports its avocados to South Africa and other countries in Asia and Europe, thanks to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.
Uganda largely exports fruits and vegetables to East Africa and Africa, with Kenya and Rwanda among the major destinations.
Ephrance Tumuboine, the head of phytosanitary and quarantine in the department of crop protection, said traders from Asia have been to Uganda hoping to import avocados, but without the necessary standards in place, this market is yet to open up.