By Clifford Akumu
Few buyers, if any, can tell exactly where their produce has come from. Many are easily deceived by the sight of healthy-looking produce and are therefore oblivious to the harmful pesticides used to grow it.
The rising cases of food safety concerns and reports of pesticide residues, heavy metals and pathogenic micro-organisms linked to fresh fruits, and vegetables, are a cause for anxiety. Such incidences have consumers wishing they could easily verify the source and quality of their food.
Well, the eProd system, may just be the answer to the food safety scare. Born out of sheer frustration, the system has morphed into one of the most comprehensive and appropriate supply chain management (SCM) ERPs.
How eProd was born:
In 2004, Mr Jan Willem Van Casteren, an agricultural economist, and his colleague, were facing the frustrations of handling thousands of smallholder farmers they had contracted.
The duo decided to develop a solution and up came with eProd.
“At that time, off-the-shelf ICT management packages were scarce and even today, it is difficult to find a complete supply chain management system that is affordable,” Mr Van Casteren explains.
After conducting several pilots of the software for various sectors, eProd was commercialised 2015. Today, eProd is assisting hundreds of companies in eight African countries to efficiently run their services. It also manages farmer contracting, field inspections, surveys, extension services, communication, mobile payment, quality-based payment, weather information services, credit, traceability, and collections.
The company has ventured into advanced systems, including quality-based payments for smallholder farmers and ag-intelligence. So far, there are about 100 active licenses in over 20 agricultural sectors and more than 240,000 farmers in eastern Africa, relying on the system.
Besides being a treasure trove of other functions, eProd, helps buyers to trace produce to its origin. This safeguards quality standards and compliance for food safety certification.
Operating in 11 African countries and available in several languages, eProd makes handling large numbers of suppliers easy, efficient, and accurate.
This means the challenges that aggregators and suppliers experience while sourcing from large numbers of small-scale suppliers are eliminated.
Saccos that deal with thousands of farmers can keep track of their farmers through their comprehensive profiles that can be created. The profiles will tell you the credit status of individual farmers, their training attendance, field data, supply contracts, GPS location, and also give you photos.
Such information then makes it easier to improve productivity through monitoring of field activities, managing input distribution, product aggregation, and quality-based payments, while enabling traceability.
Besides, the system allows one to manage cash transactions with farmers and efficiently communicate with them and your employees using integrated SMS and email.
Flexible system configurations, including a mobile application that works both online and off, and powerful API integrations are added advantages of eProd.
The eProd system also comes with a field application for mobile phones or tablets and can use Bluetooth scales and printers for field collections.
It can easily be integrated with hardware or software, for example, quality measurement devices for quality-based payment and specialised financial software or enterprise resource planners.
Reliably functions in areas where the internet is poor or absent
“Even though it is now used also outside agriculture, commodity traders, farmer cooperatives, and food processors in agriculture and livestock can greatly benefit from it. Our system is very strong, even when the internet is lacking,” says Mr Casteren.
The system comes with a handheld application for standard Android devices and can also efficiently synchronise with the network or even a simple laptop. It can function in the cloud, but for most clients, internet speed is too low.
The next phase of implementation of the business model aims at specifically serving farmers’ cooperatives where the eProd system can become a real game-changer.
eProd is a system that offers different packages, of which the smallest can hold a maximum of about 1,000 contracted suppliers, explains Mr Van Casteren, and the licence fee per year costs just over KES 100,000 or $1,000. The biggest user has currently about 50,000 contracted suppliers in the system.
In Kenya, the company has worked with several fresh fruits and vegetable producers and exporters in Nairobi, Kilifi, Machakos, Murang’a, Kiambu and Coastal counties. They are now using eProd as a compliance tool for the implementation of KS1758 Standard. The company intends to roll out to other agribusiness sectors.