By William Madouk
Parties affected by the impounded Ugandan maize and wheat flour have given South Sudan authorities a 4-day ultimatum to release the trucks or they stop supplying the country with foodstuffs.
Ugandan processors and exporters, transporters, and Truck drivers protested Juba’s intention to dump over 2,400 matrix tons of foodstuff valued more than 10 billion US dollars.
“We would like to express our disappointment and strongly disagree with the decision to dump over 2400 MT of Maize flour and invite us (Affected parties) to witness the exercise,” partly reads a statement.
“This is not possible; it would be like a kidnapper who abducted your child inviting you to witness the beheading,” the disgruntled group added.
South Sudan’s National Bureau of Standards (SSNBS) impounded 62 trucks loaded with maize grains, maize flour, and wheat on May 15 on allegation of failing to pass a test for contamination with aflatoxin.
Mary Gordon, the Executive Officer for the SSNBS, confirmed that preliminary results showed a high level of aflatoxin, a substance that causes cancer.
She added that the bureau took another sample from the 150-ton consignment for confirmation.
She cited that, when the second test affirms that Ugandan maize is unfit, which has yet to be made public, then the Juba administration will decide to dump it or ask to have it taken back to the country of origin.
But the affected traders claimed that the exercise of sampling, testing, and dissemination of confirmatory results wasn’t transparent, and none of them had seen the purported results.
Unhappy truckers also argued that the number of 27 samples claimed to have been taken isn’t representative enough to generalize results for the entire consignment of over 74 trucks under detention.
“Secondly, UNBS staff were denied access by South Sudan authorities to take samples; therefore, we wonder the rationale for refusing Uganda to take samples for its own analysis, and yet this is a matter of Uganda’s economy,” Ugandan traders added.
They said the same maize that was processed into maize flour for export to Juba was also processed or exported as grain for other markets like Kenya, the DRC, and Rwanda, not excluding the local market in Uganda.
“The act of dumping or destroying food will taint our image in the regional food market, and yet Uganda has proved to be a food basket in the region, and as a matter of fact, South Sudan still needs our food,” traders noted.
“This is therefore to inform the South Sudan’s Authority that in four days, if our detained trucks have not been unconditionally released, we will lay down our tools as processors, exporters, transporters, and drivers of food items to South Sudan,” they warned.
However, efforts to get comment from Ms. Mary Gordon, the Executive Officer for the South Sudan National Bureau of Standard, remain fertile at press time, as the known number remains unanswered.
The Uganda government has recently appealed to South Sudan’s authority to allow drivers and impounded trucks carrying alleged substandard maize flour to return for other errands.
Mr. Edith N. Mwanje, the permanent secretary at Uganda’s ministry of East African Community Affairs, wrote to his counterpart in Juba, Mr. Andrea Aguer Ariik, the undersecretary in the EAC affairs docket.
In a letter dated June 5, 2023, Mr. Mwanje also suggested three points to address the matter: one is for the Bureau of Standards to use the Gulu facility that was provided by TradeMark Africa (TMA) to run their tests.
“All the truck drivers are to offload the maize flour in a particular designated area, and the South Sudan Bureau of Standards continues with their investigation into the quality of the maize flour,” he added.
“Release both the trucks and drivers to come back to Uganda for other businesses,” Mwanje continued.
Yet no response was seen from his counterpart, the undersecretary in EAC affairs in Juba, Mr. Ariik, and it remains unclear whether the detained trucks were actually released or not, but no clear communication was received.
On June 16, the Ugandan minister of foreign Affairs, Mr. Henry Okello Oryem, said the South Sudanese authorities released maize and trucks from Uganda, a month after they were blocked at the border.
Mr. Oryem told the Daily Monitor that “Our embassy continued to engage them [the South Sudan government], and our Lorries have all been released, and they have come back to Uganda since Wednesday. They were forced to come back with maize and their consignment.”
On February 19, scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Kampala-based, revealed that Ugandan maize, sorghum, and groundnuts contain 10 times or higher concentrations of aflatoxin than the safety edge recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr. Godfrey Asea, National Crops Resources Research Institute, said Uganda’s maize poses a cancer risk to consumers due to the high concentration of aflatoxin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aflatoxin is a fungal toxin that, when consumed in large amounts, can cause cancer, organ damage, and death.