Thursday, 03 April 2014 17:25

Drug barons flood seed market with Counterfeits

Written by Abisai Amugune
A trader selling cereals at a shop in Kibera slum. Cartels have invaded the seeds sector hence making the seeds scarce and expensive. A trader selling cereals at a shop in Kibera slum. Cartels have invaded the seeds sector hence making the seeds scarce and expensive. Picture: George Ngesa

Farmers have been warned that drug barons have now shifted their base to the seed industry, says the Kenya Seed Company Chief Executive Officer, Willy Bett.

The CEO says the barons, similar to those dealing with drug trafficking, had now found a soft landing in the seed industry by distributing fake seeds.

According to Bett, the problem had been compounded with lenient punishment meted out to seed fake dealers.

Alert

Addressing the 2014 cropping season press conference at the KSC headquarters in Kitale, the KSC MD said they were sounding the alert to farmers and security forces to be on the look out during this rainy season when seeds are high demand.

On his part, the KSC chief security officer, Ambrose Ngare, said the seed traffickers were influential people mostly with operational bases in Mt Kenya region.

Accompanied by the company’s PRM Sammy Chepsiror and head of pasture Joyce Agufana, the KSC top brass said the firm had “taken great exception” to lenient  penalties imposed on dealers of substandard and or fake seeds.

Said Bett: “This is economic sabotage. The seed industry is desperate. This actually is targeted to undermine the production of food for the country’’.

The CEO noted that they had the opportunity to salvage the seed sector but squandered it by allowing laws to be passed that were not punitive enough to culprits circulating fake seeds.

According to the new Parliamentary Seed Act, distributors of fake seeds are liable to a fine “not exceeding Kshs.1 million,” which according to the KSC management is peanuts to operators of substandard seeds. In most cases the illegal operators have been imposed with the kshs.5, 000 fines.

Says Bett: “As a country we cannot fight hunger if we cannot protect farmers against fake seeds. We should not address this issue casually but confront it pro-actively. The fake seed scandal is like drug-trafficking.”

In the past season, KSC which supplies nearly 85% of seed products to the country and surplus for export, has been on the spot at the beginning of every planting period and blamed for the supply of fake maize seeds to unsuspecting farmers.

Discover

In some instances, the fake products have been discovered packed in materials bearing the KSC logos while in other cases the seed firm’s products have been stolen from the premises.

Several suspects have appeared in court and fined while some cases have yet to be concluded many years later.

But according to Bett, KSC has its territorial mandate of action but would not hesitate to reserve its resources to assist government agencies to clamp down on the distribution of fake seeds.

 The CEO named them as Criminal Investigations Department and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service as some of their collaborators in the war against fake seeds in the country.

But why should the dealers target KSC’s products? Is there an end to this piracy of maize seed?

Bett says the conmen were interesting in his company’s seeds because of their high quality and demand.

For the current planting season, KSC is on high alert and is closely monitoring the movement of seeds from their warehouses to the dealers and to the farmers.

Last season, the company recorded a deficit of 10 million bags of seed maize. 

Concern

But what worries Bett is that in the current rainy season, some farmers planted their seeds out of time while others have been over dependant on certain varieties.

“We have all the mechanisms and capacity to substitute varieties. For example, the 613 or 614 maize varieties meant for the high altitude areas can be substituted with the 629 or 626 varieties which equally have high potential yields,” says the CEO.

However, he denied that the popular 613 and 614 varieties had been exported to Uganda saying that they had only run out of stock because of their high demand by farmers.

The KSC MD’s message to the farming community was three pronged: change the mind -set and go for alternative seed varieties, plant your crop by the mid-April period and purchase your seeds from recommended stockist and agents.

The seed firm sees the subsiding of prices on seeds and fertilizers by the “responsive’’ government as a shot in the arm to farmers to diversify their production. For example, one kilogram of seed was being retailed at Shs.150 instead of Shs. 180.

According to the KSC boss, early planting was also prevention to certain crop diseases apart from the potential maximum yields.

The company has other seed maize varieties such as H6210 and H625 and H513 while for lowlands of coastal region there is the PH4. The dry land areas of Kitui, Makueni and Baringo there are the DH01, DH02 and HD04 varieties. Their potential yields vary between 16 – 50 bags of maize per acre.

On the issue of the firm’s shareholding the ownership remains a ‘’hybrid’’ holding between the government through ADC with the 53 per cent and the private shares of 47 per cent.


This article was originally published in the Reject Newspaper Issue 96


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