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Simple mobile tools to combat fake agricultural inputs

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Agriculture ICT4D M4D Uganda
Posted on March 17, 2011

Whitney Gantt is Partnerships Manager, CKW program, at Grameen Foundation Uganda.

Poor farmers in Uganda routinely struggle with access to agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and improved seed varieties, that would boost their crop yields.  Access to improved inputs is one of the highest impact scenarios for improving farmer productivity.  In the right context, the application of fertilizer can significantly increase  yields, by up to 300% – which means the potential to triple income.

Two of the chief constraints for a smallholder farmer to buy these inputs is lack of access to fertilizer in a quantity they can afford (inputs are often sold in large quantities priced beyond the means of a typical smallholder farmer) and lack of trust that the input is real and not a counterfeit product.  Smallholder farmers are risk averse – buying a fake product can mean financial ruin or worse so building trust in the efficacy of the inputs is extremely important.

The first constraint of high prices can be tackled through “sacheting” – the practice of breaking larger quantity products down into smaller sized or “sachets” which yields a price point that a small-holder farmer can afford.  The second constraint – knowing whether or not your seeds will sprout or the fertilizer will really work –  is a tougher problem to address.

One potential solution has previously been used to counter prescription medicine counterfeiting in West Africa.  Sproxil and mPedigree have developed a solution that uses a unique number on “real” products that can be sent via SMS text to a verification center which responds by SMS text that the product is “real”.  A client can send the SMS, or ask the seller to do it in front of him or her, to verify the medicine is real before they make the purchase.  This approach could easily be ported over to protecting agricultural inputs from counterfeiting.  At Grameen Foundation’s Uganda AppLab we are considering working with a few partners who are already planning to pilot such a program.

We would be glad to hear from you in the comments section of your opinion of this solution and any other ideas you might have to help farmers access agricultural inputs.

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