Kenya Seed Company turns to SMS authentication

Maize cropA Kenyan agricultural company is turning to mobile technology to try to protect its products and customers from counterfeiters.

Kenya Seed Company Ltd (KSC) - a state-owned corporation that sells certified seeds including maize, wheat, sunflower, sorghum, millet, rice and assorted vegetables - will make use of a text message-based system to allow its products to be authenticated.

The platform involves fixing a label to the seed bags with a scratch-off panel that reveals a unique code. When the code is texted to a toll-free number, a reply will indicate whether the code -and presumably the product - is genuine or fake. Each text message will cost Sh2 (around 2 cents) to send.

"Our distribution outlets will soon embark on educating the public on the importance of making use of the digital platform each time they acquire seeds so that even as they plant, they are assured of good yields," said KSC managing director Willy Bett in an interview with the Standard newspaper.

The technology has been pioneered in the protection of pharmaceuticals from counterfeiting by companies including Sproxil, Kezzler, MPedigree and PharmaSecure, but is increasingly finding applications in other industrial sectors.

The CropLife International agricultural organisation has implemented a label - called Holospot and developed by Tesa Scribos - that incorporates text message-based verification and has been piloted in several countries in Africa, including Kenya, to protect seed and pesticide products.

KSC has been fighting counterfeiting for years, with its seed maize products particularly affected by sales of illegal copies, and estimates the practice has dented its profits by around 20 per cent.

Last year, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) threw its weight behind SMS verification, setting up a dedicated number that will allow goods certified by the agency to be tested by consumers and businesses.

In 2012, the Alliance for Seed Industry in Eastern and Southern Africa (ASIESIA) was set up in the Kenyan capital Nairobi to serve as a focal point to direct anti-counterfeiting initiatives, amid claims that up to 40 per cent of the seed distributed in the country was fake.

The consequences of using counterfeit seed include low yields, food deficits and economic hardship for farmers.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock / PhotoGraphyca

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