The recent announcement that Kenya had extracted an agreement from Uganda for the exportation of meat and dairy products in exchange for importation of sugar was music for public and private sector players in the livestock industry.
Hopefully, the removal of restrictions of access to the Ugandan meat and meat products market for Kenyan products made during a bilateral meeting between the respective Presidents marks the beginning of the end of long and protracted technical and trade negotiations.
Following the international scare caused by the emergence of mad cow disease in Europe in 1996, the Ugandan government imposed a ban on importation of beef and beef products from Kenya.
Suddenly, Kenyan companies that previously enjoyed unfettered access to the Ugandan market could not do so, leading to loss of export revenues.
The Kenya Meat Commission, the only abattoir in the region with capacity to produce corned beef and Farmer’s Choice processed meat products, bore the brunt of the ban.
Since then, intricate and protracted mechanisms have been put into play in attempts to unlock this market. These comprised bilateral meetings between agriculture and trade officials of both countries and negotiations through the East African Community Council of Ministers.
As part of these efforts and in line with international practices, Kenya invited Ugandan veterinary officials on a risk analysis visit to
assure them that Kenyan meat and meat products do not pose any significant risk of introduction of mad cow disease into Uganda.
This was conducted in 2012 and involved hosting a high-level Ugandan technical delegation to interrogate Kenyan disease control systems, infrastructure and legal framework.
The team took particular interest in Kenya’s ports of entry, veterinary inspection procedures and Kenya’s meat quality assurance systems in both public and private export abattoirs, including the Kenya Meat Commission and Farmer’s Choice.
Since mad cow disease was first reported on the world scene, the disease has not been reported in Kenya or anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nonetheless, its risk impacted negatively on livestock and livestock products trade in the region. Kenya early on formulated and put in place measures to contain the risk of the introduction of mad cow disease into the country.
Among these was the gazzettement of mad cow disease as a notifiable disease, vide Legal Notice Number 309 of October 10, 1996. This law compels notification and investigation of all cattle showing any clinical signs related to mad cow disease.
Kenya also prohibited importation from European countries of live cattle, carcasses, meat, bone meal and their products, vide Legal Notice Number 126 of
December 2, 1996, and banned feeding of ruminant protein to ruminants in 2001, vide Legal Notice Number 19 of January 19, 2001.
Uganda, however, always held that these measures were not sufficient to address the risk of mad cow disease and raised other technical concerns to justify the continued existence of the ban.
This imperiled a significant proportion of livestock export revenues inclusive of live animals, beef, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs, raw milk, hides and skins that totalled Sh11.6 billion against imports of Sh4 billion, according to the Agriculture ministry estimates of 2012.
Kenya always held that the suspension of exports due to fears of mad cow disease was unfair and constituted a Non-Tariff Barrier to Trade.
Indeed, Kenya was constrained to report the matter to the EAC.
An EAC Council of Ministers meeting referred the matter back to Kenya and urged her to first review the legal notice No 69 to address the issues about the disease by December 30, 2012.
The NTB was deferred for deliberation during the next bilateral meeting between Kenya and Uganda. Kenya scheduled for November last year.
According to the status report of elimination of non-tariff barriers in the East African Community, the matter still remained unresolved as of September 7 last year.
While both countries all along emphasised their belief in commercial diplomacy as a cornerstone in national diplomatic efforts, there was always recognition that the current balance of trade favours Kenya and Uganda is constrained to address this through a determined export thrust.
The stated commitment to resolve this barrier to trade by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni is a welcome relief and a harbinger of the end of a 19-year-long ban that has cost our livestock sector dearly.
The projected increase in export volumes and revenues that the agreement portends will contribute to direct job creation through increased value addition of meat.
This will also shore up farm gate prices for finished cattle products, thus improving household incomes, especially for commercial beef ranches and pastoral households.
The commercialisation of agriculture and livestock is one of the key thrusts of Vision 2030 and the gains made in reopening export access for meat and meat products from Kenya to Uganda should not be lost in the sugar ruckus.
Dr Njoroge is a public sector veterinarian email: [email protected]