Fake seeds force Ugandan farmers to resort to ’bronze age’ agriculture

Francisco Toro

Francisco Toro, Entrepreneur, journalist and political scientist
Francisco Toro, Entrepreneur, journalist and political scientist


Gangs selling counterfeit high yield seeds are trapping farmers in a cycle of poverty as crops fail.

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.


The lack of trust in local seed markets is a problem even for large commercial farmers, some of whom have invested heavily to plant hundreds of acres with high yield hybrids that simply didn’t germinate. For small-scale farmers, fear of counterfeits leaves commercial seed out of the question: when a failed harvest means outright hunger, any risk is too big to take.


Development partners have long recognised the key role of improving seed and other inputs, but donor funds often go to finance basic research to develop new adapted seed varieties. Ultimately, the products of crop science reach the field through the operation of local input markets, and where governments are too weak or inefficient to police those markets, the potential for abuse is ripe – and the impact of new seed research is much reduced.