The planting seasons in Kenya are generally characterised by high demand for certified seeds against low supply. As a result, shady seed merchants have been taking farmers for a ride by selling them counterfeit seed. These seeds are packaged in similar packets as that of certified ones. In addition, there have been instances (albeit relatively low) where some certified seed have had low germination rates and in other instances some seed do not germinate at all. In both cases farmers have been suffering in silence.
Although some farmers have good judgement, when it comes to detecting fake seeds it is never fool proof. If the business of fake seeds is allowed to flourish, it will be a threat to the seed industry which each year loses millions of shillings in potential sales.
Reason to smile
There is however a reason to smile as the seed industry in the country has now moved to have all seed packets for crops and vegetables labelled using scratch-off sticker labels.
Although this requirement will be mandatory for all seed packets in the market below 10 kg from October 2017, a substantial number of companies have already complied well in advance. A tender to supply the labels was awarded to mPedigree, an African enterprise that offers manufacturers technology to help combat the sale of counterfeit products. mPedigree had by end of March 2017 supplied more than sixty million labels since the project’s inception in August 2016. The demand for the labels is projected to reach 120 million labels by end of 2017. This will assist to counter fake seed supplies and trace the origin of seeds that farmers buy.
The new labels have added security features including a scratch code that allow farmers to verify if the seed purchased has been certified.
How it works
A farmer sends the code from the seed packet s/he has purchased to a response centre to authenticate the seed. S/he receives a reply indicating the name of the company that produced the seed, the variety, variety lot number and the date when the seed was tested among other things.
The mandatory labelling of all seed packets with a label that gives farmers useful information was proposed by the Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK), following a series of negotiations that started in 2016 with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MoALF) and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS). The negotiations brought down label prices from KES 15 to the current KES 2 to make them accessible to all players in the sector. STAK will continue to play an important role in the full rollout of these sticker labels and in ensuring its success.
Kenya Markets Trust, through funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Gatsby Africa (GA), and its implementing partner Agri Experience are working with STAK and mPedigree.
Challenges at Roll Out
As with all new technologies, the initial lot of labels had teething problems such as slow supply, issues with serial numbers (some numbers were not sequential), problems with activation of labels among others. However, with close working relationships and commitment from the stakeholders, most of these challenges have been addressed. mPedigree has since changed the supplier of the labels to address the serial number problem and to guarantee efficiency. KEPHIS on their part are placing adequate advance orders for labels. mPedigree, in collaboration with STAK and KEPHIS, has organized training sessions for seed companies; two training sessions have so far been held and eleven seed companies participated in the recent training that largely focused on ironing out efficiency issues. Seed companies continue to train their staff to activate labels before seed is released into the market.
mPedigree recognizes the need for farmer sensitization in making the labels function effectively. mPedigree therefore plans to carry out farmer sensitization activities jointly with KEPHIS, STAK, seed companies and other sector players by the official launch date of October 18 2017. Some seed companies have already requested mPedigree to run a promotion and marketing campaign and are ready to reward loyal customers who make purchases over time. In order to encourage uptake, mPedigree is also considering incorporating insurance premiums through companies that independently provide such services and geo-tagging for mining location-specific data. This could provide added incentives to both farmers and seed companies. How this will be operationalized is still under discussion.