Grain and cereal industry stakeholders have joined hands with Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) to chart ways of improving the safety and quality along the value chain.
The stakeholders noted that ensuring quality and safety of grains and cereals will boost competitiveness in the local, regional, and international markets.
Antoine Mukunzi, the RSB national quality testing laboratories division manager at Rwanda Standards Board, said there is also need for regular research on standards so that the sector adopts processes that meet safety standards.
“Our grain and cereal products can’t compete with those from the region and beyond once they lack essential standards. Therefore, we have to conduct research on standardisation to ensure that our products can compete in international markets. This will promote Made-in-Rwanda initiative and boost exports,” Mukunzi said.
He was speaking during the meeting that brought together grain and cereal industry stakeholders and RSB in Kigali, on Friday.
Reports indicate that 30 per cent of grain and cereal is lost in developing economies due to many factors, including poor storage facilities.
Mukunzi noted that the promotion of cereal products needs the intervention of all stakeholders agriculture sector.
“Though the sector’s standards have improved, we have to always sensitise farmers on standards, encouraging them to test their crops in our laboratories. This way, we will ensure that hoteliers source produce from local farmers instead of depending on imported ones,” he added.
RSB said lack of standardisation in the sector could affect the economy through lost earnings by farmers and produce dealers.
Meanwhile, cereal industry players said the sector faces a range of challenges, including poor processing technologies, lack of packaging materials, poor or non-existent storages facilities and market systems, as well as environmental conditions. According to RSB, high moisture levels, biochemical reactions, microbial growth, and toxin formation continue to limit quality of produce.
“Cereal and grain products are packaged in ordinary bags, which allow moisture into the produce, resulting into growth of microbial and biochemical reactions, decay and toxin development. All these affect the quality of produce and exposes consumers to health risks, particularly poisoning from aflatoxins,” RSB officials explained.
Africa faces food safety and storage challenges due to the high prevalence of aflatoxin found in grains, cereals and other staple foods.
Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing moulds that can lead to stunting in children and severe health problems in adults. They are regularly found in improperly stored commodities such as maize, cassava, millet, rice, sorghum, and wheat.
When contaminated grain is processed, aflatoxins enter the general food supply where they have been found in both pet and human foods.
Speaking at the meeting, Alain Nzitatira, from the Rwanda Grain and Cereal Corporation, said poor storage by farmers is responsible for the huge grain losses.
“As traders, we value standards. That’s why we have to test all the produce to ensure it meets the East African Community (EAC) standards,” he said.
He called on participants, as well as grain and cereal traders, to work with RSB so that they can be able meet EAC standardisation requirements.
He added that the fact that farmers do not have the required facilities to properly dry grains to recommended moisture content makes it hard to address this challenge.
Post-harvest loss is one of the unanswered and ignored challenges in food security in Africa, representing more than $4 billion in lost value every year, according to Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).