Seed companies are sounding the alarm on the circulation of fake and substandard seed commonly referred to as ‘Dubai seeds’, as farmers prepare for harvesting season with details emerging that in previous seasons, farmers bought upto 30 percent of substandard seeds.
Seed and agro input stockists say they have also heightened awareness on best seed selection and purchases by farmers to shield them from the counterfeits.
"Taking advantage of the shortage, some unscrupulous dealers flood the market with fake or substandard seeds, for the unsuspecting farmers to buy,"said Nathan Wakaba a seed stockist from Nakuru. "Seed companies have therefore taken steps to bridge the gap and save farmers from such big losses."
Wakaba noted that farmers suffer heavy financial losses, on top of experiencing food shortages as a result of low production and purchase of poor seeds.
He says purchases are increasing for early maturing crops including maize which takes close to 105 days to mature and beans.
"Some farmers have opted for the new drought tolerant hybrid maize to minimize the risks in losses once drought hits before harvesting,” Wakaba added. But farmers have to be conscious about the counterfeit seeds, "he said.
In the recent past, unsuspecting farmers have purchased fake seeds thinking they are good ones. Fraudsters package counterfeit seeds and wrap them using renowned seed producers packages and pass them as genuine. Some of them sell weed seeds to unsuspecting farmers.
In most cases, the farmers across the country have lost a substantive amount of money after purchasing counterfeit seeds and animal feeds.
Conmen package their products using packages similar to those of leading companies complete with brand names and fake lot numbers, which make it hard for farmers to suspect the evil game.
In one incident, Daniel Waweru, a small-scale onion farmer in Kieni West district Nyeri county was sold Datura seeds, which were packaged as onions. Wawerus dreams of making a kill in onion production and sale ended up when his seeds germinated. He had bought 250 grammes of red creole seeds for Sh850 and sowed them. "I had done my timing well and I expected to fetch about Sh200,000 after maturity, but I realised something was not well the moment the seeds germinated," he said.
He was surprised to realise that he had sowed Datura seeds, a poisonous weed that has seeds almost resembling those of onions.
Waweru's complaints to the dealer who sold him the seeds, which he says had been packaged in a local seed company’s bag, did not help, as the stockist just advised him to take the container to him.
He did not get any refund or an exchange with the right seeds. By the time he realised he had sowed Datura, it was too late to plant again.
Many other onion farmers in the area, which is known for growing good quality onions, were affected and this would probably be a representation of how Kenyan farmers are being conned by counterfeiters. This was not the only area targeted by counterfeiters.
There are incidents of farmers in north of Malindi town at Marereni area, purchased fake bean seeds and incurred losses.
As much as farmers keep on incurring losses emanating from purchase of fake seeds many cases go unreported since most of them do not take the bold step to involve regulatory bodies.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards, Association of Animal Feeds Manufacturers, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute are some of the organisations that regulate sale of these products to farmers. But due to ignorance, farmers do not involve them.
Mr. Tobias Ololo, a Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) inspector based in Mt Kenya Region, says most stockists and manufacturers escape facing legal action since most com-plaints do not reach their office.
"We regularly stage raids and sometimes we net sub-standard prod-ucts that are offered for sale," said Ololo.
Dr James Onsando, the Kephis managing director noted that conmen use red oxide chemicals to treat counterfeit maize.
"We advise farmers to ensure that the reddish colour in the maize seeds they buy is uniform to avoid being dragged into the con game. They should also ensure the packages of the seeds they buy has a Kephis mark of quality, while they should also keep it and an official receipt from their stockists, so that it can help them lodge complaints with us (Kephis) in case they turn out to be fake," said Onsando.
He says the packages should also have Lot Numbers, which helps Ke-phis and mother company follow up the products during, investigation.
Even as complaints abound over flooding of counterfeit seeds, manufacturers have distanced themselves from blame and instead blamed underground cartels.
They receive complaints from farmers who claim they were sold sub-standard feeds, but when the company officials get to the ground to ascertain the truth, they discover that the feeds are produced by some cons. Some manufacturing companies blame some stockists whom they claim open some products and scoop some feeds and add other materials to make more sales from the original consignments.
.The choice of seed can determine if the farmer will get a good harvest or a poor one. Seeds are developed according to climatic regions, soils and other factors; if a fanner plants the wrong type of seeds in a given climatic region, they cannot do well.
Sale of fake seeds, also called "Dubai" seeds is very common during the planting season. Aware that most Kenyan farmers cannot afford genuine seed, unscrupulous farmers contracted by seed companies sell condemned seed as genuine seed, of-ten at a lower price.