Uganda taps SMS verification to protect agro products

Maize cropUganda is the latest African nation to embrace text message-based verification for agricultural products at risk of counterfeiting.

Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has formed an alliance with USAID's Feed the Future initiative and SMS verification specialist mPedigree to bring the project to fruition and try to drive fake seeds, organic pesticides and fertilisers out of the market.

It is estimated that more than 30 per cent of seeds and other agricultural products are counterfeit in Uganda, which has a massive and deleterious impact on the country's 5m farmers.

Using the new service, products marketed by companies participating in the scheme will carry labels with a scratch panel containing a 12-digit code that can be verified for free using a mobile phone. Similar initiatives have been implemented in other countries, including Kenya.

mPedigree is implementing the programme with the help of Ugandan corporation RenPublishing, with the roll-out occurring "in phases over the coming months and years." The first phase of the initiative is due to complete in 2016.

"Fake agrochemicals often contain dangerous compounds that contaminate ground water, and poison consumers, said the partners in a statement.

Meanwhile, fake seeds give poor yields or sometimes do not germinate at all, affecting not just the livelihoods of farmers but also putting their lives at risk "when financial ruin turns to suicide or self-harm."

"A perverse twist to this development is the misrepresentation of banned chemicals as organic farm chemicals, thus turning the ecological goals on their head."

Earlier this year mPedigree made its first foray into the textiles sector, having built its business largely from protecting patients from being exposed to fake pharmaceutical products.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock / PhotoGraphyca

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