Inside joint operations on counterfeit seeds in Lira as farmers count losses

Lira | Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from agriculture in Uganda decreased to UGX6561.69b in the first quarter of 2023 from UGX7930.62b in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Seeds are the most renewable agricultural resource and their quality is one of the determinants of farming success, but high-yield seeds are expensive. 

Counterfeit seeds

The high cost of seeds has placed poor farmers at a disadvantage. As a result, 90% of Uganda’s crops are still produced using home-saved seed.

Only 10–15% of farmers in Uganda use improved seeds and many of the seed companies find it difficult to turn a profit. 

Investors consider Uganda’s agricultural potential to be among the best in Africa, with low-temperature variability, fertile soils, and two rainy seasons over much of the country – leading to multiple crop harvests per year.  

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Uganda’s fertile agricultural land has the potential to feed 200 million people.  8% of Uganda’s land is arable but only 35% is being cultivated.  

In the financial year 2021/22, agriculture accounted for about 24.1% of GDP, and 33% of export earnings.  The UBOS estimates that about 70% of Uganda’s working population is employed in the agriculture sector.  

Further, the country produces a wide range of agricultural products including coffee, tea, sugar, livestock; fish, edible oils, cotton, tobacco, plantains, corn, beans, cassava; sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum, and groundnuts.  

Commercialization of the sector is impeded by farmers’ limited use of fertilizers and quality seeds, and a lack of irrigation infrastructure – rendering production vulnerable to climatic extremes and pest infestations.  

Sector growth is also impaired by the lack of quality packaging capabilities, insufficient storage facilities, poor post-harvest handling practices, shortage of agricultural credit, high freight costs, the lack of all-weather feeder roads in rural areas, a complicated and inefficient land tenure system, and limited knowledge of modern production practices. 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, which has the mandate on matters related to seed standards and regulation, has been supported by donors for many years but still avoids inspecting companies dealing in fakes while licensing companies with no proper capacity for producing decent seed.

Now, a Joint operation by officials in Lira City, Lira district and leaders of Lango Agro Input Dealers Association on counterfeit seeds continues as farmers cry.

As it stands, counterfeit seeds worth millions of shillings from agro-input shops (black markets) within Lira city have so far been impounded and taken to Lira Central Police Station and their owners made to record statements.

A peasant farmer from Oyam district, Morris Odongo noted that he bought the counterfeit seeds from one Imat Christine, who operates a shop in the main market.

Odongo said he bought the fake DK 777 variety worth UGX1,245,000.

“I came to Lira City on Tuesday (last week) but was told that DK 777 was not in the market. So, someone told me ‘go to Lira main market’ and decided to buy seeds worth Uganda shillings 1.245.000 from one Imat Christine who instead sells clothes,” Omara narrated.

Omara said he came to know of buying fake seeds while the district Agricultural officials were on a local radio sensitizing farmers.

Jasper Omara, another farmer from Oyam district also sharing the same ordeal, says they were directed to a shop with Lira city’s main market where they bought the DK777 maize seed variety.

“We entered the said shop but it didn’t look like an agro-input shop, instead they were selling clothes. The seeds were even hidden elsewhere,” he added.

Patrick Alip, the senior District Agricultural Officer of Lira said the counterfeit seeds they are impounding in the markets include DK777 maize variety and sunflower.

“The suppliers have not yet brought in the DK777 maize variety so, we believe the ones in the market are just counterfeit seeds sold in the black markets,” he said.

Lira district agricultural officer who also doubles as the Assistant Commissioner in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dorcus Alum said the affected agro-input shops selling the counterfeit seeds will be closed as well as those that are not registered and certified.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of Lango Agro Input Dealers Association, Patrick Ogwang said they are currently conducting operations to weed out fake seeds on the market.

“These people just have an ill intention of making huge amounts of money and taking advantage of farmers who don’t have the idea of differentiating between the certified genuine seeds and fake seeds.

Ogwang adds that “people who will be found selling counterfeit fake seeds will be fined one million Ugandan shillings and another one million shillings will be paid to whistle-blowers” who will be giving them intelligence reports on such dealers.

However, some of the agro-input dealers blamed their distributors, saying the seeds that are usually supplied to them are tricky to verify whether they are fake or not.

Counterfeit seeds affect the business viability of both farmers and seed companies. An estimated 30% of the seed on the Ugandan market alone is fake, according to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards. 

In response, index companies have developed multiple strategies to limit the circulation of counterfeit seeds, mostly through improved seed packages.

About 60% of companies have implemented measures to address counterfeit seeds, particularly in Uganda and Kenya. East African Seed, FICA Seeds, Equator Seeds and Kenya Highland Seed use an e-tag system “Kakasa” set up to help farmers purchase genuine agro-inputs.

This system, which is free of charge to farmers, relies on a unique scratch code that the customer can access after purchasing the product. After the code is submitted via SMS, the customer receives a message confirming the package is genuine.

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