Rwanda: Farmers Set to Use Mobile Phones to Access Genuine Fertilizers

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In a bid to protect farmers from purchasing counterfeit, expired, or unlabeled products, the International Fertilizer Development Center has introduced a new method of using mobile phones to verify product authenticity.

The project, already on the market in other African countries like Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda, was introduced by Bruce Kisitu at the on-going Information and Communications Technology Summit for Agriculture held in Kigali.

Speaking at the summit, Kisitu, the coordinator of the project, stated that this new technology uses mobile phones to verify whether the product is fake or genuine. "Agricultural products must have a pack number that the farmer types into their phone and sends to local short code that automatically returns a verification of the authenticity of the product being purchased. All agro products, like seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and pesticides are supposed to be marked with a scratch panel that reveals the product's pack number," Kisitu said.

The International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) in partnership with Crop Life Africa developed the technology.

Agriculture experts believed that the new innovation will also give farmers confidence and security. Apart from increasing the market share of genuine agro-input dealers by about ten percent, it will also boost crop production by almost 60 percent. Flex Jumbe, the Secretary General of the Seed Trade Association of Malawi, said farmers have been kept under the blanket of poverty because of illicit trade in the agro-business industry.

It is believed that fake agriculture inputs are causing food insecurity affecting crop performance and depriving famers of profits through reduced output. It is therefore important to crack down this illicit trade, which has been a threat to agriculture production in Africa.

According to a survey conducted by the International Fertilizer Development Center in 2012, about 46 percent of agro-inputs on the market are counterfeits, 12 percent are past expiration, 19 percent are unregistered, eight percent are unlabeled and 15 percent are outdated.

Innocent Musabyimana, the deputy director in charge of agricultural extension at the Rwanda Agricultural Board, said that, once rolled out, the innovation could be the driving factor towards greater crop productivity that the board is targeting during the first season of 2014.

He called upon the innovators to continue researching on the technology and come up with more efficient ways for farmers in rural areas to adopt it quickly.