Fake Seeds Force Ugandan Farmers To Resort To ‘Bronze Age’ Agriculture

Fake Seeds Force Ugandan Farmers To Resort To ‘Bronze Age’ Agriculture

Written by Francisco Toro | From The Guardian

Of the many factors that keep small-scale Ugandan farmers poor, seed counterfeiting may be the least understood. Passing under the radar of the international development sector, a whole illegal industry has developed in Uganda, cheating farmers by selling them seeds that promise high yields but fail to germinate at all – with results that can be disastrous.

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. The result is a crisis of confidence in commercially available high-yield seed.

According to a paper published by World Bank researcher James Joughin, just 13% 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.

“The seed market is very small compared to what you would expect from the returns to these hybrid seeds,” says David Yanagizawa-Drott, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and part of a team now researching the problem in Uganda for the first time. A pilot study conducted 18 months ago “found significant amounts of hybrid seeds that were falsified”. A larger study is expected to be published this autumn.

The lack of trust in local seed markets is a problem even for large commercial farmers, some of whom have invested heavily to plant hundreds of acres with high yield hybrids that simply didn’t germinate. For small-scale farmers, fear of counterfeits leaves commercial seed out of the question: when a failed harvest means outright hunger, any risk is too big to take.

Not to be confused with GM-seeds, high yield hybrids were developed in the US in the 1930s, and were at the centre of the Green Revolution that transformed Asian and Latin American agriculture in the 1950s and 60s.

Read more at The Guardian