It’s one of the biggest things keeping Ugandan farmers poor. And nobody talks about it.

My piece on seed counterfeiting is out in The Guardian today. Have a look,

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.

6 thoughts on “It’s one of the biggest things keeping Ugandan farmers poor. And nobody talks about it.”

  1. It is very important to keep this prominently in the public domain.

    As the above shows it happens in other places too but at least they apprehend and prosecute them. One of the problems is the seed falling of the back of the lorry and people think it is genuine so they buy it to save themselves some cash. Also some of the seed is known to be grown by outgrowers so is the genuine thing but can be side sold for more than the contracted price and hence ends up on the parallel market.

    However the Ugandan seed just appears to be fake altogether. Tip: don’t buy seed unless it is in a see through plastic bag; don’t buy seed if when looking at the package there are a lot of pips from the end of the cob; always buy from a reputable dealer.


    Above is from the Zambian Farmers Union. The best outfit on the continent by far. If every nation had one such organisation then production would be much higher.

    I am not posting this because of their excellence but to show that the idea you can’t plant seed harvested from hybrids is not the view of everyone. But you would need to ask them the details as hybrid is sold with the idea you can’t plant it the next year.

  3. I don’t know if seed counterfeiting is to blame, but farmers I have worked with in the West Nile, Masindi, and Lira/Kole districts have all reported, at some point or another, very low germination rates for maize…

  4. I think the counterfeiting is the point well enough documented but in response to CF it is not always the panacea without great care.

    Genuine seed in CF can fail to germinate due to several reasons. One to mention is the soil. If it crusts and is prone to rapid dry out on the surface the seed will germinate but rot underneath. It won’t make it through or rather many seeds will not make it through. This soil is better for ploughing with harrowing after 4 days. The germination is higher with this method. The harrowing saves the seed by breaking the crust and it can get through. CF just doesn’t recommend harrowing.

    The other method in this type of soil is don’t plant the seed then cover with soil if you are using the holes method of CF. The hole should be filled up and then when there is sufficient rainfall the seed should just be lightly pushed into the hole. It has more chance of making it because it is the action of covering the soil over the seed in the recommended method of CF that seems to create a faster crust and rapid dry out.

    What saves the seed in the above soil without fail is if there is a second rain 4 or 5 days after planting. It keeps the crust soft and the seed makes it through. But that is hardly a thing that can be guaranteed. Some say 50mm is the minimum rainfall that should fall before planting CF holes. The idea is that the crust will not form sufficiently because the ground has had a thorough soaking and the seed can make it.

    This soil type is called inqolwane and isikwakwa by the Ndebele. It is not very fertile either but if it is all a person has then he has to do the best he can with it and CF will improve it. However the point is that germination is a big problem if not dealt with carefully. A poor stand results and it becomes a waste of time. Seed depth is another problem in germination.

    Actually it is more suitable for sorghum than corn both for germination and drought resistance.

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