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Seed companies lock out rural agrovets creating booming fake seed market

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Barriers by seed companies to small rural agrovets are creating a fake seed market that is hurting millions of the nation’s farmers.

The World Bank estimates that almost half of the seeds sold in many African countries are counterfeit. 

Farmers using fake seeds get up to 82 per cent less maize per acre than those planting certified seeds. Certified seeds are those that have been inspected, tested, and cleared for use by the agriculture ministry. They suffer fewer pests and diseases and are more capable of surviving periods of drought. 

“Getting access to seeds directly from major seed suppliers isn’t cheap. Most prefer to work with agrovets that open accounts by buying at least Sh100,000 worth of seeds the very first time. Also, only bulk seed buyers will have any credit extended to them,” explained an agrovet owner in Embu on condition of anonymity.

This is well out of reach for many smaller agrovets and pushes them to alternative sources of seeds in the form of other agrovets selling them at a markup or brokers who can extend expensive credit for seeds or access to uncertified and fake seeds. 

Counterfeit maize seeds he explained, are the easiest to pass off as legitimate planting seeds. “All you really need to do is get the original seed packaging and fill them with coloured non certified seeds. They also make the KEPHIS stickers that can be scratched to reveal the authentication number. Some of the agrovets are unaware that they are buying fake seeds and if they have any suspicions they do not raise them because how else will they keep their businesses running,” he said. 

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The only part of the faking process they do not have an answer to is if a farmer scratches the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) sticker and sends the code as an message.

From personal experience, he says few farmers who buy his seeds bother to scratch the stickers, fewer still take time to SMS the authentification code.

“Even if seeds are packaged to look genuine, if they are fake, the KEPHIS certification stickers will tell the farmer they are not authentic. 

What farmers must do is scratch the sticker revealing a number that they send it as an “SMS” to 1393. This message is free to send. 

If the seeds are not genuine, call the number on the label to report and get assistance from KEPHIS officers,” explained Simon Maina, the head of Seed Certification at Kephis. 

While KEPHIS officials conduct regular checks on agrovets– dealing in fake seeds can lead to a one million shilling fine and a two year jail term– they often do not get to small rural agrovets.

Farmers are also advised not to buy seeds whose packaging has been tampered with packets and to report any such cases to KEPHIS.

They should also get a receipt after purchasing any seeds and keep both the receipt and empty seed packet throughout the growing season so that they are refunded if the seeds are proven not genuine. 

KEPHIS can also be reached on: 

Nairobi (headquarters): 0709891000

Naivasha: 0795057145

Kitale: 0722209502

Nakuru: 0722209503

Mombasa: 0722209501

Embu: 0728600092

Kisumu: 0728607098/057

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