The Impact of Information on Counterfeit Markets in Kenya

Credit: Joshua Masinde

Rural African markets’ high prevalence of counterfeit goods lowers input quality and consistency and hinders agricultural productivity. If farmers lack the tools to detect low-quality, possibly counterfeit maize seeds, information may help them discern seed quality at the time of sale and, thereby, improve the quality of inputs in the market. Researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation in Kenya to determine the effect of an information campaign promoting an SMS-based quality verification system on buyer and seller behavior and agricultural outcomes.

Policy Issue 

Quality agricultural inputs (e.g., seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.) help boost agricultural productivity, but access to high-quality inputs remains low and variable in rural African markets. For example, a previous study in rural Kenya found that only an average of 77 percent of hybrid maize seeds germinate, or grow into maize crops, even though the Kenyan government requires a minimum of 90 percent germination for certification. Low-quality inputs remain less desirable to utilize since they do not improve yields at the same magnitude as high-quality inputs. Therefore, improving farmers’ ability to detect low quality products or counterfeit products–those that masquerade as being high-quality, recognizable brands but have been tampered with to reduce the potency or quality of the product–has the potential to increase adoption of higher quality inputs. 

Context of Evaluation 

Serious counterfeiting issues persist throughout Africa, and Kenyan farmers often do not have the tools to detect the quality of their agricultural inputs. Western Kenya, a rural region consisting of the Busia, Bungoma, Kakamega, and Transnzoia counties, includes a combination of subsistence and pre-commercial farmers selling in markets that could benefit from seeds that are as productive as claimed. Local markets where there is at least one seller of maize seeds will be selected to participate, and researchers will work with the maize farmers who purchase their inputs in these markets.

In 2018, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) worked with seed companies to roll out a verification system which requires every packet of certified seeds in Kenya to have a sticker that can be scanned to confirm that the seeds are verified, meet quality standards, and are not old seeds from a previous season. KEPHIS, in collaboration with the Kenyan government, recently rolled out a companion SMS-based e-verification system for farmers’ to verify seed quality before purchase. 

Details of Intervention 

In partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture and KEPHIS, researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to determine the effect of information on how to detect and report low-quality maize seeds using an SMS-based system on buyer and seller behavior and agricultural outcomes. 

Researchers will randomly assign 320 rural market areas with at least one maize seller into one of three groups with varying levels of information provision: 

  • Basic information (55 market areas): Farmers will be provided information on the KEPHIS e-verification system, how to detect uncertified or old seeds, and how to verify the authenticity of seeds for purchase. A member of the research team will deliver this information to farmers in the market areas in August, prior to the start of the rainy season.
  • Basic information + reporting information (55 market areas):  Farmers will be provided the same information as above as well as information on how and to whom consumers can report substandard products.
  • Comparison (110 market areas): Farmers in this group will receive no new information on identifying quality. 

Researchers will survey sellers of maize seeds and a random selection of farming households in the market area. The evaluation takes place over one agricultural cycle, with surveys taking place before planting (in February) and after harvest (usually between June and December). Researchers will collect data on farmers’ decision to use the system, use of inputs, agricultural outcomes including yields and germination rates as well as seller behavior, including prices and overall seed quality. 

Results and Policy Lessons 

Project ongoing; results forthcoming.