Farmer-saved seeds are not fake

“Fake seeds” have been making the news in Uganda recently, on the back of a World Bank paper:

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.

So it’s good to see one of the dozens of Youth Agripreneurs Project proposals being considered by GFAR tackling the issue.

Problem is, as Ola Westengen points out in a tweet, the project seems to be confused about what “fake” or “counterfeit” seeds are.

This from the project proposal:

…only 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 neighbors, but such seeds generally produce far lower yields than genuine high yield hybrids… This problem can be addressed by empowering local seed businessmen or empowering the locals to produce their own seed through training.

So the “problem” is farmer-saved and -traded seed? That’s hardly addressing the havoc being wrought by Uganda’s seed counterfeiting gangs.

I’m all for helping farmers build their capacity in seed production, but there’s no reason why they should then produce nothing but “high yield hybrids.”

3 Replies to “Farmer-saved seeds are not fake”

  1. Thanks for making this point here. I was recently alerted to this common misconception in a talk by Shawn McGuire at the recent Contested Agronomy conference. He showed how their seed system work is misrepresented in some media reports as if seeds from informal seed systems (often local markets) are all fake.

  2. :-) Your write-up, Luigi, was perceptive and ‘got’ our paper. I tweeted about it, and it got lots of RTs.

    As Ola kindly noted, I think the REACTION to ‘fake seeds’ in places like Uganda can serve to stifle other seed channels that serve farmers. Clearly, some agencies equate ‘quality seed’ exclusively with ‘Certified seed bought from a shop’.

    When we broaden the focus away from hybrid maize, and include all the other crops farmers sow, we see they use many other channels, particularly INFORMAL markets. and are able to manage quality quite well. Of course, they may benefit from accessing new varieties or crops. But it seems counter-productive to demonise the channels farmers already use, rather than to work with these channels to improve their access.

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