Context: The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) was established as a semi-autonomous body by an Act of Parliament in 1983. UNBS is mandated through the Act to develop and promote standardisation, quality assurance, laboratory testing and metrology to enhance the competitiveness of local industry to strengthen Uganda’s economy and promote quality, safety and fair trade. Quality includes all product attributes that influence its value to consumers, whereas safety includes all measures intended to protect human health. In a globalized economy, the role of NSBs is changing from the regulatory role to trade facilitation. There is need to recognize the importance of the impact of standards and quality awareness services on the economy.
Issues: Lower public awareness on standards, quality products and best practices hinder competitiveness and economic growth. Demand for product quality appears to be generally lower in Uganda as the stakeholders do not perceive quality issues as critical to domestic sales in the country. This is attributed to a number of reasons such as; poverty that forces local consumers to tolerate lower-quality products and lack of consumer awareness about product safety and quality. The consumers are not aware of the impact of standards like Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), animal diseases control procedures and there are no strong consumer organizations that compel retailers and producer groups to provide higher quality goods. The lack of awareness regarding SQMT issues are among the constraints that restrict effective participation of stakeholders in both regional and global standards-related activities.
Method: In order to address the awareness constraints, UNBS with the support from TMEA developed high impact awareness campaigns to increase private and public sector awareness of standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment services offered like testing and certification. The programme approach also provided a basic understanding of the requirements, mechanisms and benefits of trade development. These awareness messages included the need for better product quality to access markets and enforcement mechanisms through which violation of consumer quality concerns would be addressed. The awareness campaigns were taken to the community, via town hall meetings, billboards, and mobile road shows using the UNBS publicity van procured by TMEA, engaging business people, consumers and local leaders and showing how quality and standards can improve productivity and competitiveness of products. In addition, radio and TV programmes were used to sensitize the public on the importance of standards.
In-set is one of the billboards that were used for the awareness creation component in Uganda by UNBS with support from TMEA. The bill board was placed on the main road entering regional towns in the country. The message on this bill board was in one of the local languages meaning: “Don’t allow to be cheated, ensure that all weighing scales and fuel/gas pumps have a UNBS sticker before you pay your money to ensure that you get the right quantity”.
Results: Ugandan business community got a good understanding of the importance of quality standards in market access. The private sector is aware of how relevant quality standards are to Ugandan consumers, producers and traders. Awareness to importers and exporters made them informed of their rights and obligations and this did not only prevent delays at borders, it also prevented the importation of counterfeit and substandard goods. The consumers were also made aware of their rights and what to look for in quality products. Additionally, the number of enquiries on standards and quality-related issues increased from 2,449 in 2011 to 11,096 in 2014 and 90 new products were certified as a result of the awareness created.
Impact: Enhanced awareness on the importance of quality and conformity assessment requirements on products among the general public, government authorities, private sector and civil society organizations is contributing to increased demand for quality products and compliance by the manufacturers which has improved product market access.
Lessons Learnt: High impact awareness campaigns to specific stakeholders among value chain players have got great impact on the behavior of the stakeholders. Change cannot take place unless stakeholders acknowledge the need for change. Mind set change and awareness are critical in demanding for quality products and therefore, awareness building and training is a fundamental development strategy for trade development.
Who benefits: The stakeholders directly benefiting from awareness include the private sector, politicians, public authorities (regulators) and consumers.
In-set is a UNBS publicity van procured with support from TMEA. The van has an inbuilt public address system which makes on spot communication easy. The van has enabled UNBS spread the message of standards and quality to regions in the country where other means of communication do not reach.
Long-term effects: TMEA support towards strengthening and focusing awareness on market requirements demand will to a great extent promote trade in the region as informed consumers are essential for effective market surveillance and protection of the consumers. Awareness programme will encourage the establishment of strong consumer organizations and maintain effective communication between consumers, consumers associations and the regulators which promotes trade in quality products.