Getting What You Pay For

Posted May 12, 2016

The Tablet Based Seed Inspection App seeks to dramatically improve Malawi’s approach to certifying seeds, by simply carrying seed inspection into the digital, wireless age of real-time information.

Caption: Malawi Oilseed Sector Transformation (MOST) consultant Max Soephoer discuses the programmes work at introducing radical technilogical innovation to Malawi's Seed Services Unit (SSU)

Lilongwe, Malawi

September 11, 2015

Getting what you pay for is not always an easy task these days. Take it from Magchiel Soephoer, or Max as he is generally known, a Dutch consultant for Malawian Oilseed Transformation (MOST) – a programme supported by UK Aid in Malawi.
As a long time seed expert, 33 years and counting, Max knows that seed purchasers do not always get what they think they are purchasing. And seed companies occasionally do not sell what they mean to. Which is why MOST’s newest initiative is a good bet for everyone.
The pilot in question, The Tablet Based Seed Inspection App, seeks to dramatically improve Malawi’s approach to certifying seeds, by simply carrying seed inspection into the digital, wireless age of real-time information.
Central to the issue is that seed distributors occasionally and inadvertently sell stock contaminated with what is classified as ‘off-type’ seed – seeds of a similar variety to, but not exactly what has been marketed. However, as stock is sold and guaranteed as ‘certified seed’, only a very insignificant portion of seed sale is off-type allowable. To ensure the minimal presence of off-types, both distributors and the Department of Agriculture Research Services’ Seed Services Unit (SSU) make regular inspection of purchased seed as it grows. During cultivation different crops will demonstrate off-types as plants mature, and it is during these periods that off-types may be identified.
Difficulties arise, however, during inspection periods (usually five separate inspections per average crop growth), as current systems relying on paper-based arrangements have traditionally proved too passive, too difficult to monitor, and, simply too inefficient.
While MOST’s initiative includes support for the industry and other market actors lobbying for alteration of the Seed Services Unit (SSU) into a semi-autonomous, self-funding parastatal organization, the real ‘WOW’ to the programme is the introduction of tablets as inspection tool. By utilizing tablets fitted with GSM functionality, inspectors would be armed with an assortment of technology that would make the exercise far more efficient, to say nothing of heightening inspection monitoring capabilities.
From pictorial catalogues which demonstrate ideal plant types at various ages, to more dependable counts of off-type species, to real-time delivery of inspection feedback for both distributors and the SSU, tablet technology could prove a real boon to seed inspection, a critical component of any country’s agricultural industry.
Currently MOST is collaborating with the private-sector to develop the ‘App’ required for piloting, has already procured tablets for testing, and is working with the Government of Malawi for trial implementation approval in the soy, groundnut, sunflower, cotton and maize sectors. If the initiative demonstrates enhanced efficiencies as expected, it could be up-scaled for more comprehensive approaches.
And Max believes that this could deliver significant efficiency to both farming and seed operations, and subsequently prove highly beneficial for Malawi. ‘Reliable, real-time reporting of seed inspection provides the capacity to make necessary changes when and as required’, he notes. ‘A system such as this would give the Malawian agricultural community an efficiency not enjoyed in many countries, and would make the industry much more effective.’ If fully implemented the project would further guarantee farmers get what they pay for, and seed distributors would undoubtedly sleep a little more comfortably knowing this is reflected in the records.


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