The AgResults Uganda Pilot aims to incentivize national seed companies to produce and sell improved legume seeds, which have the potential to increase farmers’ yields and income. However, in the legume seed market before the AgResults pilot started, there has been little guarantee that seed sold as ‘improved’ by Ugandan companies is in fact improved. During our formative research for the pilot evaluation before pilot start, Abt learned that there has been no cost-effective way for farmers to differentiate between good and poor quality seed in the market due to limited capacity of Uganda’s National Seed Certification Service. As a result, farmers have been only willing to pay the price of average quality seed, regardless of a given seed lot’s true quality and value. This phenomenon depresses the prevailing market price and pushes higher quality seed out of the market since sellers of improved seed are not getting an adequate price in relation to the true value and worth of their seed. In a common terminology, “bad drives out good” in Uganda’s legume seed market. This is a classic example of the “market for lemons,” a phenomenon first described by George Akerlof in his seminal 1970 article.
One of the key research questions that Abt is answering through the Uganda pilot evaluation is the impact of the pilot on farmer adoption of improved legume seed. An effect of counterfeiting within Uganda’s seed market is that many participating farmers may believe they are planting improved seed when they are not. Therefore, even if our evaluation could determine the proportion of farmers who have adopted seed they think is improved, the proportion that have actually adopted improved seed is likely much lower. In the pilot design, AgResults built in a verification mechanism that addresses this core constraint of seed quality. This mechanism—AgVerify—will confirm that participating seed companies are in fact selling improved seed. Abt determined that similar seed quality verification should be a key component of our evaluation. At baseline and endline, Abt will conduct a seed quality assessment to measure changes in the penetration of improved legume seed over time. This will allows us to compare the actual proportion of improved legume seed used by farmers before and after the pilot.
To implement this seed quality assessment, Abt is working with Chemiphar, the seed lab which is responsible for seed quality testing for AgVerify. Chemiphar is the only International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) certified lab in Uganda. Chemiphar will procure 300 samples of seed directly from farmers who believed their seed to be improved. After collecting the seed samples, Chemiphar will test it in their lab in Kampala. They will calculate the proportion of seeds that meet COMESA’s minimum quality standards for improved seed among the samples perceived to be improved by farmers. Once Abt has collected self-reported survey data from legume-growing households about their use of what they believe to be improved seed, Abt will use Chemiphar’s information to scale the results. For example, if Abt finds that 10% of the seed reported planted by respondents in our survey is perceived as ‘improved’ by respondents, and Chemiphar finds that only 50% of the ‘improved’ seed in Uganda actually is improved, Abt will adjust our results to reflect that in fact only 5% of the total seed planted by respondents was improved seed. In so doing, Abt will be able to estimate the actual adoption, rather than the perceived adoption, of improved legume seed.