Pain of buying fake agro-inputs

Covering the ground with grass and leaves (mulching) adds soil nutrients. Photos | Michael J Ssali

What you need to know:

  • Genuine fertiliser when applied to your farm will lead to improvement of the soil health, your crops will grow vigorously and you will get the best harvest for higher profits. Knowing when to fertilise is as important as using the right fertiliser.

Farmers devote a lot of attention to the various challenges facing their work. One of the challenges is maintenance of soil fertility on their farms. Some of the farmers chose to use synthetic fertilisers, others use organic fertilisers, and many others use both synthetic and organic fertilisers to keep their farms fertile and productive.

Unless a crop farmer keeps livestock in large numbers on the farm it is not easy to get sufficient livestock manure to replenish the soil all the time. Most farmers must have a budget for buying fertilisers.

They may buy organic or synthetic fertilisers. It is however quite painful for a farmer to spend money on what he believes to be a genuine fertiliser only to discover soon afterwards that the product is not only counterfeit but it is also toxic and bound to reduce his farm’s productivity.

Dr Kanoonya’s ordeal with fake fertiliser

Dr Paul Kanoonya, a veterinary doctor, retired Masaka District production officer, and currently a banana farmer at Nakatete Village, Kisekka Sub-county, Lwengo District, had a sad story to tell Seeds of Gold about two weeks ago.

“I went into a farmers’ shop in Masaka that I always trusted as one selling genuine agro-inputs,” he narrated. “I wanted to buy organic fertilisers and the shop attendant persuaded me to buy a particular type of organic fertiliser that was contained in bags of 25 kilogrammes. He told me the fertiliser was manufactured in the Netherlands and that it was very good. I was persuaded and I purchased some bags of the fertilizer,” says Dr Kanoonya.

When Seeds of Gold visited him at his residence in Kimaanya, Masaka City, Dr Kanoonya had a small bag containing some of the fertilisers that he was told “were manufactured in the Netherlands”.

Some of the fake organic fertilizer that Dr Kanoonya bought. 

He strongly doubts now that the product he bought was manufactured in the Netherlands and whether it will serve the purpose for which he bought it. “My suspicion is that some people in Uganda claiming to be recycling garbage could be the makers of this product. It is certainly not from the Netherlands. I employ a few labourers on the farm and I told them to open the first bag and apply the fertiliser to the banana plants following the instructions on the bags. The first bag was all applied on the bananas before I noticed anything abnormal. However I undertook to open the second bag myself to see exactly what the fertiliser looked like. And what did I notice? First it was jackfruit seeds which made me wonder if these are so common in the Netherlands. Then I went on to see pieces of plastics and synthetic fibres in the mixture.”

He said he became quite upset by what he discovered and ordered his men to stop applying the “fertiliser”. He further revealed that he searched his pockets and by good luck he found the receipt that had been issued to him at the shop where he purchased the product. He also still keeps the bag and what he refers to now as the fake fertilisers that he believes were actually made somewhere in Uganda to defraud farmers.

Effects of fake fertiliser on soils

Ms Eseri Nankya, a soil scientist working with National Agricultural Research Organization (Naro) under Mukono Zonal Agricultural Research Development Institute (MUZARDI) has told Seeds of Gold in an interview that plastics reduce water retention and infiltration capacity of the soil whether it is by rain or irrigation.

Cow dung is a good organic fertiliser.

“Plastics and soil are not compatible and soil mixed with plastics is useless for agriculture,” she said. “Plastic is non-biodegradable and it may take from 400 to 1000 years to rot. Actually some types of plastics will never get rotten at all. Secondly plastics reduce root development of plants and lead to poor crop yields. Yet we are fighting poverty and food insecurity through farming. Thirdly plastics also carry dangerous chemicals that can poison the soil and also the natural water bodies where they may be taken by runoff water. Fourthly they can also alter the soil structure.”

A quick Google search led to a brief study report from Germany stating: “Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into ground water or other surrounding water sources and also the ecosystem. This can cause a range of potentially harmful effects on the species that drink the water.”


Nankya is concerned about the continued discovery of fake organic fertilisers on the market in Uganda. She said some people also undertake to make what they call organic fertilisers and pesticides from a concoction of poisonous plants from the jungles. “These are applied liberally without regularised specifications or dosages and they may end up being poisonous to the soil and the food consumers,” she said. “I believe some regulation of such products must be carried out.”

Legal redress

She thinks that defrauded farmers such as Dr Kanoonya should take up the matter with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) which she said has a quality monitoring unit so that the producers of the fake fertilizers can be traced and apprehended.

Dr Kanoonya points at the fake organic fertilisers that he bought. 

Following his bitter experience, Dr Kanoonya says, “I am disturbed not just because I have personally lost money buying what I now realize is a fake product, but I am a lot more concerned about the magnitude of damage that is unleashed on the entire country’s farming sector when hundreds of thousands of farmers buy fertilizers contaminated with plastics and use them on their farms. Somebody must take responsibility and prevent this from going on. The reason I am holding on to the receipt, the container, and the fake fertilizer is to help with the investigation.  Did the National Bureau of Standards really approve of this fake agro-input that I bought?” 

Anthony Ssekaddu, Agricultural Extension Officer of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society, in Bukomansimbi District which encourages organic farming, has once told Seeds of Gold that member farmers are facilitated to buy trucks of cow dung and goats droppings to directly apply in their coffee plantations. “My role is to teach them how to apply the livestock manure,” he said. “We also hold regular meetings where the farmers are taught how to make compost manure and how to do proper mulching in their gardens.”

Another step taken by the society to increase organic manure availability for the farmers is the introduction of livestock keeping skills to coffee farmers which is also a way of creating an alternative source of income.  “We are set to provide our farmers with cattle, goats, and poultry to look after” Sekanddu disclosed. “We have been giving them livestock keeping skills and teaching them how to use livestock manure to enrich the soil.” He said the goats and Friesian cows will be loaned to the farmers on the understanding that when they give birth the offspring will be passed on to other farmers as loans to be paid back with live animals.