Counterfeit Seed: a growing challenge that is threatening the sector in Ethiopia

The problem of fake, counterfeit, or substandard seed in Ethiopia has received little attention, yet there are substantial indications of the problem as an emerging challenge facing the seed sector. Cognizant of this fact, ENSP has organized stakeholder workshops at Adama and Bahir Dar to provide a platform for stakeholders to discuss the status of fake seed in Ethiopia.

Dr. Mohammed Hassena, ENSP project manager in his welcoming speech told participants the objective of the workshop. Dr. Mohammed said the problem of counterfeit seed is increasing. He said the problem was mainly limited to maize but now it is expanding to the other crop types. He further expressed the workshops aimed to facilitate discussion among stakeholders to identify main types and source of fake seed, exploring the extent of expansion and pave the way for joint action to reduce the problem.

Dr. Mohammed Hassena, ENSP project manager, welcoming participants

The workshop was started with an official opening speech made by Mr. Ahmed, Head of Oromia region regulatory. In his opening speech Mr. Ahmed mentioned the significant contribution of ISSD project in the past. He appreciated ENSP as a continuation of ISSD, for its support to strengthen the seed sector. He added seed counterfeiting is basic problem and the workshop is a good opportunity to discuss the problem and put a way forward. On the other hand, Mr Belete, Deputy head of Amhara region regulatory made opening speech in the Bahir Dar workshop. He remarked and appreciated the targeted approach of the project in supporting the regional seed regulatory body. He confirmed the prevalence of the cases in the region, and appreciated the workshop as a good opportunity to discuss the challenge.

Mr. Ahmed, Head of Oromia regulatory, making opening speech

The main sources of fake seed were then discussed by the participants. They emphasized that all parties throughout the seed value chain contribute to the production and- dissemination of fake seed in some way. It includes agro-input dealers, out growers, producers, dealers, brokers, cooperatives, unions, grain traders, politicians, and some unethical government recruits. The most common types of seed counterfeiting are repacking rejected seed, stealing seed on farm, adulteration and dressing grain with artificial colors. Reusing certified seed bags for fake seed was mentioned by participants as a common problem; counterfeiters sell low-quality seeds disguised as popular seed varieties in these re-used bags.

Participants also discussed the major factors driving seed counterfeiting in these regions. Participants highlighted a number of systemic challenges in the seed sector that promote the expansion of counterfeit seed, including: weak and inadequate regulatory frameworks, insufficient production and supply of certified seeds, regulatory authority capacity limitations, no follow up mechanism in place- limited attention and enforcement. A push factor for counterfeit seed was also identified as a lack of awareness among seed producers about the potential harmful consequences of fake seed.

While participants’ reactions to the challenge of fake seeds varied, the major challenges raised by participants to combat seed counterfeiting were: limited capacity of regulatory bodies to effectively manage the problem, political leaders’ intervention, weak linkage among stakeholders’ and actors, and changing behaviour of seed brokers. According to participants, increasing the production and supply of certified seed can help to alleviate the problem of fake seed. Genuine seeds, which are supplied and managed by responsible seed producers and licensed distributors, help to ensure crop quality. To fight the threat, regulatory authorities’ capacity should be strengthened and collaboration with other sectors should be strengthened. Coffee marketing regulation was raised as an example. Law enforcement personnelare rewarded for their efforts to combat illegal coffee sales. Participants believe that if the strategy is adopted, meaningful transformation in the seed business is achievable.

The workshops were held on February 6th and 9th, 2023 in Adama and Bahirdar, respectively. More than 44 individuals from Oromia, South, Amhara, Sidama, Benishanguel Gumuz regions and federal institutes took part.

Finally, the workshops stressed counterfeit seed has an impact on the seed sector in many ways. The fake seeds in branded packaging cause a loss of trust. It compromises the effectiveness of efforts to enhance the adoption of improved varieties since farmers will have no way of knowing whether the seed, they buy is genuine. So, governments must ensure that legislation deters illegal seed practices effectively and consistently. Without legal mechanisms in place, counterfeit seeds might risk the livelihood of many farmers and the seed sector.