Watchdog Maintains Tough Stance on Closed Dairy Firms

RWANDA - The Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) has vowed to continue with the crackdown on uncertified dairy products makers.
calendar icon 26 July 2017
clock icon 4 minute read

This follows pleas by some of the dairy firms that were ordered to cease production by RSB due to lack of necessary quality requirements three months ago to be allowed to resume operations, The New Times reports.

Phillip Nzayire, the director for quality assurance at RSB, said the standards watchdog will not relent in their efforts to ensure food safety and fair competition by "removing all uncertified products from the market".

"We cannot allow any dairy products that are not certified for quality on the market. If we find any uncertified products on the market, the makers will be apprehended and charged in the courts of law," he said.

In April, the Rwanda Standards Board directed dairy firms whose production processes and products did not meet standard guidelines to cease operations until they comply with requirements. The crackdown by RSB followed a meeting between the standards body and the Rwanda National Dairy Platform (RNDP) where it was agreed that all dairy producers should comply with certification requirements or face closure.

All dairy product makers without the "S" mark of quality were to, accordingly, stop operations following the April directive.

Mr Nzayire said a joint team of RSB staff, local government enforcement officials and security organs always conduct inspections to ensure no firms contravene this directive. This means that any person who wants to start the same business should be ready to comply with all sector regulations and guidelines.

Raymond Murenzi, the RSB director general, said the move is aimed at protecting certified producers and ensuring public and food safety. “Only products certified with the "S" mark are allowed on the market. However, we are also helping the affected producers to improve their production processes. Their products will then be certified when they meet all requirements," Mr Murenzi said.

However, the affected firms say they should be allowed to reopen as they resolve the queries raised by the watchdog, arguing that they have incurred heavy losses over the past three months. The ban affected about 60 cheese, yogurt and fermented milk processing companies, according to the Rwanda National Dairy Platform.

Emmanuel Kageruka, the vice-president for processors’ cluster at RNDP, said 61 dairy firms were affected, adding that only seven are currently operating. The majority of the affected firms are small-scale dairy products makers.

Mr Kageruka, who is also owner of Gishwati Farms Limited that makes yoghurt, said a total of 33 companies were affected in Gishwati, leaving many farmers with nowhere to sell their milk.

Mr Kageruka added that requirements are "not easy to attain" and "the process is costly and takes long to complete." He also said the process is hampered by lack of dependable laboratory services in the countryside. "However, we always work hard to ensure standards and quality as stipulated by RSB guidelines and licence requirements," he said.

Mr Kageruka’s plant had no clean water point, a problem he said has already been fixed and is waiting for RSB inspection. He is optimistic that RSB will approve the facilities he has put in place so that he starts operations next month.

The official added that many firms do not start the certification process because it is costly. For a dairy firm to qualify for certification, they must have clean water at the premises, electricity, and a building that meets construction standards, among others.

Speaking to Business Times, John Musemakweli, the Rwanda National Dairy Platform executive director, however, said RSB was provoked to take stringent measures by the reluctance on the part of some companies to initiate the certification process though they had funds. He said they were working with RSB to facilitate affected companies to meet quality requirements and resume operations.

"We recognise the contribution of the affected companies, which are mostly start-up cooperatives, to the national economy. That’s why we are supporting them to fulfill the RSB guidelines so that they are approved to re-open," Mr Musemakweli said. He added that small firms are playing a big role in the domestic marketing recapturing and Made-in-Rwanda initiatives.

Diane Umutesi, the managing director of Mucyo Dairy in Rubavu District, said the affected companies have lost huge sums of money following the ban. "Some of the affected firms have bank loans; how will they service them when they are not working? They also have to pay a lot of money for certification. This may push some out of business," she said.

Danny Twagiramungu, the owner of Muhe Farm Cheese in Nyabihu, said his plant operated in an old facility, adding that he is building a new structure that is nearing completion. "After I have put in place all the equipment and facilities I will invite RSB to inspect the plant, and hopefully, they will give me a ‘go head’ and also give the quality mark," he said.

Certified products

According to Mr Murenzi, RSB certified 13 dairy products between 2016 and 2017. Overall, 423 locally-made products currently have the "S" mark of quality across all sectors of the economy.

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