How a Kenyan firm uses mobile phones help detect counterfeit seeds

The Kenyan government, through a seed Company now helps farmers verify the authenticity of seeds via mobile phone technology.

Use of poor quality or uncertified seed costs African farmers hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Better seeds include those bred to help farmers to withstand harsher droughts, extreme heat or worsening flooding associated with climate change.

Such seeds can help farmers to substantially boost harvests, crop experts say.

“The government is trying its level best to ensure that farmers get the best inputs,” said Peter Chemuigut, Director of Kenyan Government-owned Agricultural Development Corporation.

Under the Kenya Seed Company effort, the firm has attached stickers inside bags of seeds that contain a scratch-off code.

Farmers send the code via SMS message and get an instant response as to whether the code and the seed are valid, said Esther Cherop, a saleswoman at Kenya Seed Company.

“That way, a farmer goes ahead and plants, knowing that the seeds are of good quality and certified,” she said.

Besides more unpredictable weather and changing crop diseases, Kenyan farmers face another worry – counterfeit seeds.

A seed sold as something other than it is – the wrong variety or with the wrong characteristics – has effects.

Sometimes, seeds marketed with a falsified certificate of authenticity can make the difference between a bumper crop and a failed harvest, farmers say.

Cherop said that the phone messaging system also helps Kenya Seed Company to track locations where counterfeit seed packets are common.

“With the mobile phone technology, we can track and map effectively areas with rampant cases of fake seeds.

“In spots where lots of counterfeit seeds are reported, our team will move swiftly and, together with our appointed agro-dealers, we can easily address the issue,” she said.

Moses Dapash, 38, a farmer from the Rift Valley Village of Ntulele in one of the country’s best agricultural regions, said that the system helped him to identify a fake seed package last year.

“I didn’t want to take chances. I verified all the seeds before planting.

“Unfortunately, I found out that one packet was not certified, but when I called the Kenya Seed Company, it acted promptly and I was asked to return the seeds,” he said.

The system helped him to bring in a good harvest this year and enough cash to begin repaying some of the losses from three years ago, he added.

At that time, his crops failed due to harsh weather, diseases and what he believes was a fake seed problem.

“I can’t tell exactly if it was solely fake maize seeds, diseases or drought,” he said.

“What I know is that I went into a huge loss of 1.5 million shillings or about 14,700 dollars,” said Dapash, who farms more than 100 acres in Narok County.

A good quality seed is crucial to helping small-scale farmers – who grow much of sub-Saharan Africa’s food – to secure a harvest.

In an effort to make certified seeds more affordable, firms such as Kenya Seed Company, sell them in packages as small as 5kg.

They try to ensure farmers do not need to travel further than 5km to buy them.