Most people in Tanzania know counterfeits as the other name for fake goods, medicines, food products and the like. The products are often produced with the intent to take advantage of the superior value of the imitated product, but their negative impact on well-being of economies and lives is huge.
For example in Tanzania, the insidious business has now spread to the agricultural sector, with inputs now targeted with understandably devastating consequences.
The signs that the poison is spreading surfaced when some unsuspecting farmers in Iringa bought seeds for last year planting season, but they failed to germinate.
The farmers when following up on the issue discovered belatedly that they had fallen prey to dishonest traders who had sold them large quantities of counterfeit seeds and fertilizer. The farmers ended up incurring a huge loss in terms of capital, muscle power and seeds.
As it is customary, they reported the matter to the respective authorities — the district councils — but to their surprise, no action has been taken.
To make matters worse, even the status of the fake seeds case that they lodged in court has not been followed up by the District Agricultural and Livestock Development Officer (DALDO), who was entrusted with the task.
Such is the pathetic situation facing farmers in Iringa Region, but similar cases have been raised for follow-up in other parts of the country.
We are concerned at the reported apathy of officials because agriculture remains a crucial sector in Tanzania and Africa in that it contributes about 30 percent of the GDP; most of the jobs, food and industrial development.
If counterfeit dealers infiltrate it, the nation will suffer serious consequences, for as one farmer said during the survey it will be “killing the farmer, agriculture and the green revolution in Tanzania.”
Leaders in Africa and stakeholders in agriculture from various parts of the world are convening at a grand conference in Arusha this week to discuss how, the continent can fare in this sector, if given a second chance of transformation.
It is our view that this is the appropriate venue for the continent leaders, not only to dwell on the problems facing this sector, but also to look for appropriate solutions to the challenges that threaten to kill it.
Reports show that Tanzania, East Africa's second largest economy loses over 1trn/- in revenue due to counterfeits, according to the United Nations Industries Development Organisation (Unido) report released recently.
Of this, 5 percent is through counterfeit seed distribution, which apart from victimising the farmers, it also harms the honest seed traders making them lose their clients who take them all for crooks.
But what is even more serious is that about 8 percent of the government budget is lost through the counterfeits.
The government must quickly find a way of protecting farmers and ordinary people against the crooks, who we are very much sure have their accomplices in our midst. For how could they otherwise infiltrate the farm distribution lines so easily?
We must create a system to easily track such supplies to help net the culprits. Surely current technology can do that easily, if only we work at it.