Ugandan seed distributors aren’t adulterating seeds, it’s probably a problem of handling and storage

This is from a new paper by Alicia Barriga and Nathan Fiala in World Development:

Results from the tests showed very high levels of DNA similarity (above 98%) and good performance in general, but highly variable quality in terms of the ability of the seed to germinate under standard conditions. We do not see differences in average outcomes across the distribution levels, though variation in seed performance does increase further down the supply chain.

ugandaseedsThe results of the tests point to potentially important issues for the quality of seeds. The variation in germination suggests that buying a random bag of seeds in this particular distribution chain can matter a lot for farmer’s production. The high rate of seed similarity suggests that the main concern among policy makers and researchers, that sellers add inert or low-quality material to the seeds, is likely not the case, at least for the maize sector in the districts we study. However, given the remoteness of these districts and the lack of any oversight in these areas, we believe the results are likely a lower bound for the country as a whole.

The supply chain analysis suggests that the quality of seed does not deteriorate along the supply chain. The quality is the same, on average, across all types of suppliers after leaving the breeders. However, we observe high variation of seeds’ performance results on germination, moisture, and vigor, suggesting that results are more consistent with issues of mishandling and poor storage of seeds, possibly related to temperature or quality controls, rather than sellers purposefully adulterating seeds. Variation on these indicators is usually associated with mishandling during transportation and storage.

As the authors note in the paper, African governments and their external donors have put a lot of effort in “certification and labeling so as to reduce the possibility of adulteration by downstream sellers”. Obviously, e-labels and systems of verifying seed authenticity in the fight against adulteration are important. But equally important is an understanding of how the seed distribution system works. And that is one of the major contributions of this paper. Corruption is not always the problem.

Read the whole paper here.


Interestingly, Uganda bests both Kenya and Tanzania on productivity in the cereal sector (I made the graph using FAO data). Despite starting off with relatively lower productivity and having gone through civil conflict beginning in the late 1970s, Uganda has since around 2007 clearly separated itself from both Kenya and Tanzania (and appears to have plateaued). Productivity in Kenya peaked in the early 1980s and has pretty much stagnated since. Tanzania’s figures appear to be trending upwards having collapsed in the early 2000s. There is likely an element of soil quality and general aridity involved in these trends. According to the FAO, Kenya and Tanzania use fertilizer at significantly higher rates than Uganda. For comparison, cereal yield in Vietnam is about 2.7 times higher than in Uganda.


All Roads Lead to Monopsony? Moyo on China’s Commodity Grab

Following the success of Dead Aid (which I enjoyed very much), Dambisa Moyo tried a repeat with Winner Take All – a book on China’s rising dominance of global commodity markets – with very little success.

The first half of Winner Take All is mostly a recount of statistics (most of which are already in the public domain) and general information on the state of the global commodity markets. It is not until the second half of the book that Moyo delves into the real issues regarding her subject matter – global commodities and China’s insatiable appetite for the same. But even then, the chapters are rather short on actual information on China and are instead full of comparative statics with the rest of the world (or more accurately, mostly the United States of America).

Moyo is not a China expert, and it shows in Winner Take All.

If you are looking for an indepth take of Chinese firms involved in the global commodity markets, their specific investments, strategies and relationships with the Chinese authorities, you will be disappointed. Moyo simply treats all of China as a single actor. There is no domestic politics. There is no discussion of redistributive concerns within China and how they will impact China’s economic performance. There is no nuance on the potential impact of China’s impending demographic decline (except in the concluding chapter). In the end the whole thing reads like it should be a special in the Atlantic Monthly rather than a stand-alone book.

The book, mistakenly, falls into the trap of Western declinism, suggesting that China will undoubtedly emerge to be the ultimate monopsonist in the global commodity markets (almost unchallenged). There is also loose talk of potential for conflict over resources – something that is contradictory to discussions in other sections of the book that emphasize the symbiotic relationship between China and the rest of the world.

The greatest strength of the book is its balanced take on the economic, political and social effects of the rise of China – especially with regard to Chinese investments in the rest of the world. The “Angola Model” of infrastructure-for-resources, discussed in the book, is far superior to the Swiss-accounts-for-resources model that has been the preserve of the West in many resource-rich developing countries over the last half century.

Winner Take All is a far cry from the provocative Dead Aid. It lacks a substantive discussion on the political economy of China’s economic rise (whether domestically or globally). Instead, it gives perspective (for those not in the know) of the implications of China’s economic rise.

Most importantly, it is also a welcome addition to the works of scholars like Deborah Brautigam who continue to remind us – and rightly so – that China’s economic adventures in the developing world have net positive benefits, despite the overwhelmingly negative press. For this reason I would recommend the book.