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(cross-posted from IP Delivers)
You reap what you sow, as the old adage goes. But can you imagine putting your time and back-breaking labor into crops, only to have them fail to yield food? That’s what is happening in African communities, and it’s not because of the soil quality, the level of rain, or the lack of laborers. Recent reports indicate that Ugandan’s farmers’ crops and livelihood have been decimated due to counterfeit seeds.
Many consumers, and certainly those in the IP community, are aware of the problem of counterfeit goods, which ruin brand reputations and jeopardize consumer health due to inferior quality or sometimes dangerous components. But illicit goods in the agriculture community are a real and growing problem.
In Uganda, counterfeit gangs have begun to dye regular maize the color of high-yield hybrid maize in an attempt to trick farmers into purchasing seeds which will never produce a product. Hybrid seeds were developed back in the 1930’s and are largely responsible for the ‘green revolution’ of Asian and Latin American agriculture in the mid-21st century as they result in a much higher crop yield. But when the market is proliferated by counterfeit seeds, farmers are left with no harvest, empty pockets, and hungry families.
Alternatively, the fake seeds are forcing many Ugandan farmers to rely on traditional farming methods. Farmers, unsure about the quality of seeds in these dubious markets, instead save seeds from the previous season to plant for the next year’s harvest. This practice leads to a 90% lower crop yield than the first generation hybrid seeds sold by legitimate plant breeders. The confusion created by these fake seeds has cast an undeserved shadow of doubt on the promise of hybrid seed. The continued use of this traditional farming method causes concern that could stunt Africa’s growth and continue the perpetual cycle of hunger and poverty.
It’s heartbreaking to think that counterfeiters are taking advantage of hard-pressed farmers. The fact that solutions exist – that the utilization of hybrid seeds could radically change the market for African farmers and break the cycle – makes the problem all the more tragic. Unfortunately, enforcement against the proliferators of these counterfeit seeds is almost nonexistent, leaving the farmers to roll the dice on their crops and income in the hopes that they will get lucky and purchase legitimate hybrid seeds.
No one should have to gamble on their livelihood, and providing for their family. If African governments can improve enforcement measures to criminalize those that deal illicit goods in the agriculture market, perhaps we could begin to end the cycle of poverty. Solutions exist, but government enforcement is needed. The eager hands and hungry hearts of Africa deserve nothing less.