NAIROBI— Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Thirty-four-year-old Jemima Mwafigu intently logs her inventory into her computer. She is a businesswoman who deals in perfumes and designer colognes. But in the first year of running her business, she found it hard to keep customers due to counterfeit goods.
She says things have improved since she began using an smartphone app known as “Barcode Scanner” to authenticate her products.
Today she’s taking one of her clients through the authentication process before finalizing a sale. She says the app has made all the difference.
“With this application I’m able to scan the bar codes of each perfume that I may be able to sell to my customers and instantly I get the manufacture date, the expiry date and I’m able to know the authenticity. It will actually point me to the perfume house that I’m looking for. That way, I have confidence in selling to my customers," said Mwafigu.
In 2010, Kenya created an Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) to combat the illicit trade. The ACA has successfully lobbied for stiff penalties to deter would-be counterfeiters.
Agnes Karingu, the ACA's acting deputy director for research and awareness, tells VOA the agency is trying to stay one step ahead of those making the fake goods.
“We are also looking into IT solutions where we can be able to use SMS programs, we can be able to use bar codes and information sharing, whereby the end users of the products can actually be able to get the information authentication between counterfeit and genuine, and this information comes back to ACA and intellectual property rights holders," said Karingu.
The agency is testing a pilot program known as “Allvirtous” -- another app that checks a product's authenticity by scanning its barcode. The information is then sent to a database before a positive or negative result is fed back to the app.
The International Chamber of Commerce says the value of counterfeit goods produced globally is expected to top $1.7 trillion this year.
For entrepreneurs such as Mwafigu, the new apps will help ensure the products she sells are the real thing.