Uganda mulls fingerprint tracking to tackle fake seeds
Counterfeit hybrid seeds are a major problem in Uganda but the authorities are prepared to act
Tony Kaganda is a maize farmer from Jinja, Uganda. Over the years, the youthful farmer has grappled with ways of identifying the best certified seeds as quacks have infiltrated invaded the market with fake seeds. This season, is one he would do anything to forget.
It all started when he purchased 35kg of ‘certified’ seeds from the busy agro-input hub of Kampala popularly known as Container village. Two and half months after planting the maize, short, pale and stunted maize crops dons his four acre farm. “I bought certified seeds assuming that it was ‘Salongo’ QPM hybrid with ability to double yields. However, what I am seeing on my farm is totally a different scenario. I can only say that, I was conned because I had better results last season with a similar maize variety,” he said.
Having purchased each kilo at about USh 8,000, Kaganda parted with about USh 300,000 to fill his four-acre piece of land. During the previous harvest, he managed to harvest over 7.5 tonnes of dry maize seeds, but with the kind of results he is currently witnessing, the father of two doubts whether he will even manage to get three tonnes from the same area. It is not the first time he has been duped into buying fake seeds.
“I cannot understand how this keeps happening to me and to make matters worse, the seed prices this time round were 30 percent higher owing to the introduction of Value Added Tax on agricultural inputs from this year’s budget reading,” lamented Kaganda.
Kaganda is among millions of farmers who fall prey to unscrupulous traders who have resorted to making a quick kill from unsuspecting farmers by packaging and selling counterfeit seeds and other farm input materials. Behind this backdrop, National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) is to implement a project aimed at safeguarding millions of farmers like Kaganda against counterfeit seeds. The project will use technology to check authenticity of all seals on seeds and other farm input materials they release in the market.
According Dr Ambrose Agona, acting director general of (NARO), the efforts will also help to assure farmers of genuine products and inputs that are guaranteed to give them high yields. In addition, the use of high-tech tracking systems will help NARO build farmers’ confidence in quality seed and track fake farm inputs.
The system will generate a stamp of authenticity on all NARO outputs, which will be made available to farmers through the single-spine agricultural extension system to be rolled-out by government. “Uganda is second in Africa in terms of counterfeit seeds; and I am not proud of that. Therefore, there should be measures to check that and we believe this strategy will help. For the varieties that have been produced by NARO, we are going to introduce finger printing to easily differentiate them from fake ones,” said Dr Agona.
He added that NARO is scaling up efforts to increase its engagement with farmers and end-users of its products and therefore the creation of the tracking system is a result of demand-driven research. According to the crop detection department in ministry of Agriculture, fake inputs are mainly expired seeds, seeds with forged labels, adulterated chemicals, and seeds mixed with food colour.
Counterfeiting in maize seeds, especially hybrid varieties is the highest. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation noted that in 2012, Uganda lost USh 13.8b in fake agro-inputs. Counterfeiting gangs have learned to dye regular maize with the characteristic pinkish orange colour of industrially processed maize seed, duping farmers into paying good money for seed that just won’t grow. As a result more farmers become disillusioned and dump improved seed varieties for seeds saved from the previous season.
According to a paper published by World Bank researcher James Joughin, a paltry 13 percent of farmers buy improved seed from formal markets in Uganda. The rest rely on seeds saved from the previous season or traded informally between neighbours, but such seeds generally produce far lower yields than genuine high yield hybrids