A recent report released by the Ministry of Health has shed light on the concerning state of food safety in Uganda. According to the report, the country witnesses approximately 1.3 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year, accounting for 14 percent of all treated cases.
A significant issue highlighted in the report is the escalating burden of aflatoxin contamination within Uganda’s food system. Shockingly, up to 65 percent of maize samples tested were found to contain aflatoxin levels surpassing the Ugandan maximum limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb).
The presence of aflatoxin not only poses severe health risks but also hampers economic growth, reducing it by 0.26 percent.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that Uganda suffers a loss of $77 million due to the treatment of 3,700 cases of aflatoxin-induced cancer.
Huzaima Sekalema, the program officer at SEATINI, emphasizes that aflatoxins contribute to a decline in export value, resulting in a substantial reduction of 45 percent in total agricultural exports.
Sekalema highlights the increased concerns regarding food safety in Uganda, pointing to the widespread use of contaminated water for cleaning fruits and vegetables. This has led to visible chemical residues on produce, including commonly consumed items like tomatoes.
A study conducted by Rikolto in Kampala and Mbale cities revealed that a staggering 82 percent of sampled vegetables and fruits contained carbonates, indicating the use of chemicals during transportation and storage within marketplaces.
Additionally, the prevalence of food fraud remains a growing problem, with unregulated adulterated products flooding the market and being sold to unsuspecting consumers.
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, has announced the establishment of regional food safety laboratories in Gulu City, Mbale City, and Mbarara City.
The government, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), is committed to developing and harmonizing food safety standards at regional and global levels.
Efforts are also being made to allocate resources towards campaigns, projects, and initiatives promoting modern agricultural practices, the production and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods, and community-based nutrition services in smallholder households.
As Uganda grapples with these food safety challenges, urgent action is needed to safeguard public health, protect the economy, and restore consumer confidence in the nation’s food system.