KMT Agri-Inputs Case Study

Scratch-off Labels for Seed

Introducing an innovative technology empowering farmers to verify the authenticity of crop seed offered for sale in Kenya

Kenyan farmers have long been subject to the risk of purchasing low quality or counterfeit seed

Introduction

The KMT Crop Seed Sector work formally began in July 2013. At this time, Kenya’s crop seed sector had been officially liberalized, although parastatal seed companies still dominated the crop seed landscape, at an estimated 80% market share.

Maize seed was the dominant crop seed product available to farmers in Kenya, although the greatest share of the maize seed market was held by a variety re-leased in 1986 (H614) sold by the largest parastatal at the time, the Kenya Seed Company. This variety was initially developed for the highland agroecology but was routinely being planted by Kenyan farmers well outside of the zone for which it was bred. At the same time, new crop varieties were being released by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), but they were largely maize varieties. As a result, uptake by private sector companies and farmers was relatively slow.

Systemic Constraints

Despite legal provisions to the contrary, Kenyan farmers have long been subject to the risk of purchasing low-quality or counterfeit seeds. Even though crop seed sold in Kenya is required to be certified by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), the seed can lose quality post-certification (for example, if stored improperly or for long periods at an agro-dealer shop), can be erroneously approved for certification, or can be illicitly distributed by a seed company.

Counterfeit seed in Kenya has over the years been produced by very sophisticated operators, lured by the opportunity to make quick cash during the rush of the planting season, often working in concert with rogue agro-dealers who agree to sell the counterfeit seed. Stemming the tide of low-quality and counterfeit seed in Kenya was proving to be problematic for both seed companies and KEPHIS.

KMT and Agri-Experience Partnership

In 2013, KMT began to work in the crop seed sector and partnered with Agri Experience in implementing a crop seed sector project under the Market Assistance Programme (MAP), funded by the former UK’s Department for International Development now Foreign and Commonwealth Development Organisation (FCDO).

The focus of the project was on developing the crop seed sector in Kenya, working with both public and private sector stakeholders to improve the enabling environment and create lasting positive systemic changes in the market. Key categories of market actors targeted included seed companies, regulators, policymakers, advocacy groups, crop variety researchers, and agro-dealers.

Implementation

The supplier of the labels in the re-tendering was chosen through a competitive bidding process, and the Acting CEO of STAK was present to witness the opening of the tender offers on behalf of STAK members. The transparent process saw mPedigree awarded the tender as the market actor. The winning technology included enhanced security features that ensured a farmer could confirm certification at the point of purchase and receive additional information.

In December 2016, the long-awaited revised seed regulations were gazetted. They included the requirement that labels should be affixed on every seed packet under 10 kilograms as a step towards protecting farmers from poor quality and fake seed. KEPHIS and the seed companies now had to implement the plan. The project team continued to facilitate negotiations. Eventually, the price per label was revised downward from KES 15 to KES 2; a more affordable price for seed companies and thus for farmers. Costs had dropped significantly, and the functionality of the labels was vastly greater than the previously chosen label.

mPedigree Scratch-off Seed Label: Overview of Technology

After scratching the label, a farmer sends the 12-digit unique number hidden under the scratch label to a short code number using his/her phone.

Within seconds the farmer receives a message communicating if the seed purchased is genuine or not, in addition to confirmation of the variety in the package, the seed company, and the date of testing.

The text is free to the farmer as the charge for the message is incorporated into the cost of the label.

Also included on the label is a KEPHIS hotline number for addressing farmer concerns.

Results

By mid-2018, the scratch-off seed label system was adopted, and over 115 million labels were purchased by companies, with significant income (over GBP 600,000) accruing to KEPHIS. As a result, seed companies started changing behavior regarding expired seed and warehouse release practices.

With this technology now fully in use, there has been a marked decline in the incidences of counterfeit seed being sold in the market. A further outcome is that smallholder farmers have become more confident in investing in certified seed and can expect good yields at the end of the season; all factors held constant. KEPHIS, on the other hand, will be able to benefit from increased traceability of seed, including preventing the stocking of expired seed. By the end of 2017, a total of 110 million labels had been supplied since the project’s inception in August 2016, though about 45 million remained unscratched, i.e. either not activated by companies or the seed was yet to be purchased. The involvement of STAK in the preliminary stages of sourcing for a service provider and extensive lobbying to re-tender helped the industry save more than one billion Kenya Shillings through the year ending 2017, relative to the initial KEPHIS tender and label price.

Systemic Change

The introduction of seed labels in the Kenyan market has brought tre- mendous gains for the industry as a whole, with a reduction of fake seeds in the market. According to the regulator, Kenya now has less than 5% prevalence of fake crop seeds in the market.

Both KEPHIS and the seed companies have had to change the way
they operate to suit the new labels approach. The mPedigree solution involves an online platform that can be accessed by KEPHIS, and by in- dividual seed companies for their own seed inventory. For the labels to return the correct message, both KEPHIS and an individual seed compa- ny must go online to “unlock” the relevant label numbers to indicate that the seed is genuine and that it has, indeed, been certified.

This approach requires greater precision in terms of inventory manage- ment by seed companies, in addition to close coordination both within, and with, KEPHIS. In addition, agrodealers dealing in expired or fake seed now run the risk of having farmers find out about their illegal prac- tices, hence driving behavioural change among agrodealers.

Challenges

Buying multiple packets

When buying multiple packets of seed, farmers tend to scratch only one or two labels after they receive confirmation that the seed related to the first label they checked is certified. This has an impact on the effectiveness of the Scratch off label System.

Communicating channels

The lack of a broad, effective channel for communicating with agro- dealers about the labels negatively impacts the system’s effective- ness, especially since issues arising will most probably emerge at agrodealers shops.

Small crop seed packages’ cost

Mandating this kind of label on small crop seed packages, especially those under 1 kg, discourages crop seed companies from packaging in very small sizes due to high cost. This has negative implications for product promotions, and small package sale of seed that can be recy- cled.

Limits of the system

The system does not have the potential to work as well for root and tuber seed, or for seedlings, as it does for crop seed.

Lessons Learnt and Future Considerations

Data Ownership

It is important to identify upfront who owns the data collected – KEPHIS, seed companies (who pay for and affix the label) or the label provider. Once identified, it is also important to define how this data can be used in the long term in a manner that does not undermine the success of the label program.

Feedback system

It is important for the service provider to be contractually obligated to report back on what is happening with the system, for example, how many labels have been activated, how many have been scratched etc.

Competition

Competition among label providers will help to fight supplier rigidity.

Recommendations and Opportunities for Scale-Up

Awareness creation

Sustained creation of awareness is essential in ensuring that farmers continue to actually scratch the label.

Data analysis & communication

Public and private sector stakeholders need to be clearer about data analysis and communication.

Income generation

Finally, this is a great opportunity for the member association, STAK to generate income from this initiative, considering the central role of STAK in the whole process and ongoing work to ensure its effectiveness.

Conclusion

The system helped curb the sale of counterfeit seed in the market. It is expected that farmers will increase their yield. With increased farmers confidence on the quality of seed in the market, the seed companies’ reputation is as well enhanced. Unscrupulous business people will not get an opportunity to smuggle counterfeit seed to the market. Increase in farm yield will eventually contribute to improved food security to the smallholder and the country at large.

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KMT Case Study

Scratch-off Labels for Seed

Introducing an innovative technology empowering farmers to verify the authenticity of crop seed offered for sale in Kenya

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