Agriculture goes high tech to fight fakes

Tuesday January 07 2014

A poultry farmer uses his mobile phone to activate an incubator. The introduction of mobile technology and portable, wireless devices has led to the creation of innovative services and applications that are used within the agricultural value chain in developed and developing countries. Photo/FILE

Will technology put an end to Africa’s long-running problem of counterfeit agricultural inputs?

Counterfeit products are the biggest threat to agriculture in Africa, affecting germination, crop health, food security and production.

The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is now providing solutions in the fight against counterfeits. Fake and substandard inputs currently account for 30 per cent of agro sales in sub-Saharan Africa, where law enforcement agencies, ministries of agriculture and the private sector have not made any real headway in combating the trade.

The International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), in partnership with CropLife Africa-Middle East and CropLife Uganda, has developed a simple sms-based solution called the Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) to eliminate counterfeit agro inputs.

Every packet of seeds is marked with a scratch-panel, which gives a pack number and information about the product. Farmers can send the pack number by SMS to a short code, which sends back a verification of authenticity.

“The users authenticate the product themselves,” said Bruce Kisitu, the Ugandan co-ordinator of MAS. Verified products have given farmers confidence and security resulting in a 10 per cent increase in market share of the marked packs.


Mr Kisitu presented the project at the “ICT4Ag: The Digital Springboard for Inclusive Agriculture” conference in Kigali, Rwanda in November 2013. He believes that innovative solutions can combat counterfeits.

“Farmers are losing millions because of fake inputs which affect productivity. This leads to poor quality produce, inability to access competitive markets, and eventually food insecurity. Counterfeiting keeps smallholders in a vicious circle of poverty,” Mr Kisitu said.

Rwanda has used ICT for plot mapping and distribution of information to 1,223 farmers in the Rugeramigozi rice plantation, located in a marsh, located in the southern province some 49km from Kigali.

Alexis Rutagengwa, a mapping specialist in Rwanda’s ministry of agriculture, said the government used the Global Positioning System (GPS) together with the Geographic Information System (GIS) for plot mapping. They identified water sheds, created plans for irrigation, and studied soil types to determine fertility and suitable crops.

“We have mapped each plot size in the Rugeramigozi Marshland. We are now able to estimate the productivity of each plot. Each plot has an identity number with records of the name of the farmer, zone, village, name of the farm leader and the co-operative he or she belongs to,” Mr Rutagengwa said.

Claudine Muhawenimana, the manager of the Rugeramigozi co-operative, said “After the mapping, we now know how many inputs are required in planting rice.

“We are also able to tell if a farmer did not follow the right procedures when planting by the level of his or her productivity. Before the mapping, we harvested 2.3 tonnes of rice per hectare, which has now risen to over 7.3 tonnes per hectare.”

The Community Multimedia Centre (CMC) in Nakaseke, some 75km north of Kampala, has introduced a new SMS service.

Serving 45,000 people, the mFarmer SMS Service provides farmers with weather reports and up-to-date market information on prices of agricultural commodities, facilitates communication between producers, buyers, processors and service providers, and protects farmers from unscrupulous middlemen. The project’s success in Nakaseke is partly due to the high mobile phone penetration in the area.

Access to ICTs is still limited in Africa, with about 80 per cent of the continent uncovered.

“While much encouraging work is taking place across the globe, there is much more that needs to be done in ICT for agriculture to ensure that the scale of the response is commensurate with the needs of rural populations,” Aparajita Goyal, an economist in the World Bank’s Agriculture Department, said.