To ensure that the products we buy are of right quality, a legal framework that sets certain standards is needed along with regular controls to ensure its compliance. A better control of goods may increase companies’ business opportunities and at the same time improve consumers’ safety.
If you buy a litre of milk and two kilograms of apples, do you trust that the weight and the amount are correct? And if the gas meter shows 50 litres when you’ve filled up your car, is it really 50 litres? Most Swedes would probably answer yes to these questions thanks to our long history of test measurements and standardisation. But this is not obvious in all countries.
Standardisation is an important part of the Sida-financed Quality Infrastructure and Standards Programme (QUISP), which will help Uganda develop its quality infrastructure. If a company in Uganda can get a quality certification for its goods in accordance with European standards, this could open up a new market for trade opportunities. Better control is also important in relation to goods that end up in the national market.
"Countries that don’t have their quality systems under control often become dumping markets for bad products. The high quality goods end up in Europe instead, where the laws are stricter," says Håkan Källgren, measurement expert working with the QUISP project in Uganda.
For consumers, it’s a matter of being able to buy food that is guaranteed to be non-toxic, products that contain what is written on the package or that don’t break immediately. But if the consumers are to choose more expensive and safe goods, their awareness needs to be raised. A certification means an extra cost for the entrepreneur or the farmer, which is added to the price. This is why the government is carrying out a national communication campaign about the importance of quality in products.
The QUISP’s assignment to build a well-functioning quality infrastructure consists of several components: policies for standardisation, developing rules to implement and control the various standards, as well as developing a clear division of roles between different actors in the field. For the system to be credible, the agency that certifies a company's products cannot also be the one performing the tests.
Today there are very few privately owned analytical laboratories in Uganda, and one of them is Chemiphar (U) Ltd. It was established 14 years ago as a response to EU demands that all fish from the Lake Victoria region would be certified in an independent laboratory, due to the high levels of pesticides that had been found in the fish.
"Testing of fish is still our core business, though it has reduced drastically over the past years, but we also have a number of large corporations that come here to test their products, in order to ensure a 100 per cent quality for export overseas," says Annick Uytterhaegen, managing director of Chemiphar (U) Ltd.
Annick explains that the role of the regulatory body in Uganda is in particular something that needs to be developed, so that the controls are stricter and the testing itself is performed by other independent laboratories rather than the regulatory body, now being the player and the referee at the same time, involving a conflict of interest.
"The lack of controls by a regulatory body enables for example a dairy factory to say that they have their own internal analytical laboratory running the tests, while they would pay a bribe to authorities to be left alone. Corruption is a problem that can hamper the quality of work," says Annick Uytterhaegen who sees the European model with different bodies as a role model.
Building a better quality infrastructure in Uganda is a priority for the government, but the efforts to create a new institutional structure for certification and regulation involve many challenges and a lot of work remains.
In terms of concrete progress after two years of the QUISP programme, it is primarily shown within the policy work; the government has adopted a new policy on standardisation of food safety and animal and plant health, and a national standard and quality policy is designed and ready for decision. National guidelines for fruit and vegetable sector have also been developed, which puts Uganda on track to meet the international guidelines developed by the organisation GAP for a voluntary certification of agricultural products worldwide.
The QUISP programme:
The Quality Infrastructure and Standards Programme, QUISP, runs between 2010 and 2014. Sida is the main donor with 48 million Swedish kronor (SEK).
The aim is to improve Uganda's standards and quality infrastructure, in particular regulatory systems and institutions, thereby increasing the competitiveness of Ugandan products and services, which are expected to lead to increased trade, both internationally and nationally. Increased consumer safety is another important purpose, as many counterfeit or substandard products are imported into the country, as well as strengthened environmental aspects.
The Swedish support includes expertise in areas such as accreditation, standardisation and metrology.
Decision makers in Uganda have visited Sweden for a study tour, to see how Sweden has developed its quality infrastructure.
• Development of a framework for introduction and control of compliance with different standards;
• Development of a policy on standardisation and SPS and a review of strategies relevant for its implementation;
• Increased public awareness about standardisation and quality issues, for increased security and demand pressures;
• Development of new draft laws on metrology and accreditation;
• Start-up of a project to develop a future independent accreditation body for supporting the international acceptance of test and measurement.