Staring at a possible loss of its lucrative European Union (EU) horticulture market, Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture has restricted exports of chillies to only a few traders that meet a tight set of requirements.
Outgoing minister for Animal Industry Ms Joy Kabatsi, who was also acting in the agriculture portfolio, quietly issued a statutory instrument limiting exports of hot pepper (Capsicum Annum) plant products to the EU on November 22.
Officials at the ministry’s plant protection division, however, emphasised that it is a restriction and not a ban.
“The restriction will be in force for four months until April 2020 but exporters who are able to demonstrate compliance with the sanitary and phytosanitary conditions along their supply chain will be allowed to continue with regular exports even during the period,” said an official.
Uganda’s earnings from horticulture are estimated to have declined from an average of $130 million a year between 2012 and 2014 to between $80 and $100 million between 2016 and 2018.
Every country has an obligation to control pests and not to trade in infested products under the International Plant Protection Convention.
“If we don’t institute measures that stop the migration of pests, we risk exclusion from international trade in those commodities,” he said.
Coming on the back of an EU mission that in October came to audit progress on implementation of measures agreed with Uganda during a similar review in April, Uganda is scrambling to implement long-overdue reforms.
“It is good that this is happening because we have been telling them for years that the value chain needs to be organised (in a way that) every player is known and accountable,” said one exporter.
Uganda has more than 100 food exporters, with at least 40 engaged in export of fruits and vegetables.
In April the EU gave Uganda a six-month reprieve, until the end of November, to put in place strict pest control and sanitary measures across the horticulture production chain or risk exclusion from the EU.
The grace period was given after repeated incidents in which larvae of a pest, the False Codling Moth, was found in consignments of hot pepper originating from Uganda.
Mr James Kanyije, an exporter who runs KK Foods, a vertically integrated horticulture operation, says players have been instructed to register farmers who supply them. The registered suppliers will then be supported with inputs and extension services to ensure that they employ recommended practices and use only approved pesticides.
Each exporter will also have to work with registered growers that are supervised for compliance. Only farmers with land parcels measuring up to a minimum of one acre will be registered. Owners of smaller fields will be registered only if they agree to consolidate and produce as a single unit.
Limiting their number through consolidation and attachment to particular exporters would ease supervision.
“A farmer operating on less than an acre cannot earn enough from sales to be able to comply with recommended practices,” Mr Kanyije said.
A Ministry of Agriculture official said they were inspired by Kenya, which two years ago introduced even more stringent measures that banned open-field production but which was now paying off through a more compliant industry.
“When Kenya restricted production of chillies to green houses, there was a sharp drop in the number of exporters. But volumes are now much higher and more consistent with less interruption in the export market,” he said.