eProd | Management Solutions for Agribusinesses
12 Apr 2022

African Farmers’ Unprecedented Opportunity to Respond to Global Food Crisis

eProd's CRO
eProd’s Client Relations Officer assists an extension officer of AMC, one of the largest rice millers in the country (Bouaké, April 2022)

Global headlines warn of an impending food crisis due to the war in Ukraine that has destroyed hope for grain harvest for some years to come. The situation is compounded by an already severely disrupted food supply due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Food insecurity is expected to be the worst the world has seen in more than 80 years. According to a press statement by the UN World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, the world is facing its biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Meanwhile, Africa’s agriculture output potential is huge, estimated at $1 trillion by 2030. Much of Sub-Sahara Africa still imports food, however, this crisis might represent the catalyst for accelerating food production.

Critical to increased production is increased skills and networks. eProd Solutions and Buhler have joined together to provide an online training course for grain traders and millers across Africa.

Last week, Corinne Fleischer, World Food Program’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, joined other food experts in raising the alarm on the current food crisis facing Africa and the world. “We are extremely concerned about the millions of people in this region who are already struggling to access enough food because of a toxic combination of conflict, climate change, and the economic aftermath of Covid-19,” said Fleischer. “People’s resilience is at a breaking point. This crisis is creating shock waves in the food markets that touch every home in this region. No one is spared.”

Ukraine accounts for more than 10 percent of the global wheat market. Forty percent of this goes to Africa and the Middle East. According to UN FAO, world food prices have increased by 24percent in the past six weeks.

The situation seems dire, however, there could be a silver lining for African farmers and agribusinesses.

“Kenya imports 28 million bags of flour annually, while it produces only 600,000 bags,” said Paloma Fernandes, CEO of Cereal Millers Association. “The Ukraine crisis is hurting consumers but creating significant opportunities for farmers in Sub Sahara Africa.”

Indeed, an increase in global demand could increase the bottom line for African farmers. In addition, the decrease in wheat imports could bring a pivot for an increase in locally produced crops – such as millet in much of West Africa. In addition, the Africa Development Bank and other development institutions have signaled an aggressive commitment to helping African farmers ramp up their production. The ADP and partners have set a target of $1 billion to increase food production in Africa – -including wheat and other local crops like soybean and rice. The expectation is more than 40 million farmers would benefit from increased production.

Experts suggest investment needs to focus on developing expertise. In last months’ launch of the AGRA Agribusiness Outlook Report, Matthias Grabe, Buhler East Africa Managing Director, expressed a critical need for more savvy skills within agriculture. “Where we need most investment right now is in the capacity space of strengthening training and skills. Market value chains are in place, but more output requires more depth in skills that help farmers and millers improve technology and output.”

Buhler together with eProd Solutions last month launched an online training platform called Africa Grains Online to help millers across Africa develop their skill set in a wide range of topics. The free course is made up of 14 modules ranging from Grain Science to Quality Control to Access to Finance.

Jan Willem van Casteren, CEO of eProd Solutions said the relevance of training like this could not be overstated. “We set this course up to respond to the production decline in milling and the lack of training support during the years of the Covid Pandemic,” he said. “Suddenly, the world faces even greater food insecurity due to what is happening in Ukraine. This is the time for out-growers and millers in Africa to play a part in revitalizing the sector in Africa.”

23 Mar 2022

GIZ-Funded CORIS Project Increases West Africa Rice Production

Mr Ahamidé Samson of Jinukuja (rice trading company) uses eProd supply chain management software Photo: Mr. Ahamidé Samson of Jinukuja (rice trading company) uses eProd to monitor activities in rice fields.

Since the 1970s, demand for rice in Africa has tripled. Rice is increasingly replacing other staple foods such as maize, cassava, and sorghum. Despite various initiatives in the rice sector, productivity remains low throughout the African continent, especially in West African countries, and covers only 60% of demand.  Covid-19 has only increased the instability of rice production in the region. The GIZ-funded, COVID-19 Response Rice Seed Project (CORIS) brings AfricaRice and eProd Solutions together to ensure the introduction of improved rice varieties continues even during the pandemic.  

The Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in export restrictions, border closures, and travel restrictions, has jeopardized the already weakened rice sector in West Africa. To address this situation, a transnational working group of map4Rice’s Green Innovation Centers designed the COVID-19 Response Rice Seed Project (CORIS) with an objective to improve food security in West Africa and establish an independent, high-quality rice seed system to address other challenges such as climate change and yield instability.   

Africa Rice, a member of the Map4Rice working group and a research center of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is responsible for the coordination and implementation of Project CORIS. CORIS entered its operational phase in October 2020 through the production of pre-basic seed, basic seed, and certified seed.  To date, CORIS has supported the production of 27,000 tons of high-quality, certified seed in five West African countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Nigeria. 

Last year, the supply chain management platform eProd was introduced to 40 rice traders in the same countries. Together with AfricaRice, the rice traders assisted in bulking improved rice varieties and introducing quality seed to tens of thousands of rice farmers. eProd’s software solution provides rice traders with traceability tools to track the various generations of seed production through to commercial production. In addition, the eProd platform offers the traders a one-stop solution to manage all supply chain activities including farmer contracts, field inspection, communication, training, and other options.     

In addition to AfricaRice, eProd, and the 40 rice trading companies involved in the project, CORIS brings together partners from national research centers, international rice development and promotion platforms including INRAB (Benin), GIZ (Benin, Mali, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso), and INERA (Burkina Faso). Other partners include the Burkina Faso Ministry of Agriculture, MOVE Nigeria, commercial partner PRO GRAIN, and others from agriculture insurance and banking.   

On March 26-31, 2022, CORIS partners will meet in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, to review ongoing activities in the project countries, draw lessons learned, and establish perspectives for future activities to further strengthen the rice sector in West Africa.  

Please reach out to us at info@eprod-solutions.com if you would like to learn more. 

16 Mar 2022

eProd Solutions Welcomes New COO, Positions for Growth

Scott Lout, eProd's COO
Scott Lout, eProd Solution’s Chief Operating Officer

NAIROBI, Kenya – eProd Solutions, Ltd., provider of innovative supply chain management solutions for agribusiness, last month welcomed Scott Lout to its team as the new Chief Operating Officer (COO). Mr. Lout joins eProd with 25 years of experience in managerial and leadership roles across private and international relief and development sectors, where he has worked extensively in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Sri Lanka and the United States.

“It is exhilarating to be a part of the agriculture and agribusiness boom in Africa, where technology is playing a bigger role to link farmers with global markets,” said Mr. Lout. “This is a big year of expansion for eProd, and our team is ready.”

Prior to joining eProd, Mr. Lout was the Africa Region Director for Food for the Hungry (FH) for four years where he was responsible for eight countries in eastern and southern Africa. Before serving with FH, Mr. Lout spent 15 years with World Vision International in several key leadership roles including the Country Director roles for World Vision DRC and Lesotho, as well as Operations Director role in Sri Lanka. Mr. Lout began his international relief and development career in Mali. Prior to that, he spent seven years in editing and sales roles with US publishing firm, Cooper Marketing Solutions.

eProd has recently updated its structure as it positions for growth and Series A investors expected by end of this year. Co-Founders Mr. Jan Willem Van Casteren and Mrs. Almut Van Casteren continue in their respective roles as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). Other key positions, including Chief Technology Officer and Chief Financial Officer are also under recruitment.

“eProd helps agribusiness scale their operations. Similarly, we are finding ourselves in the exciting position to scale our own operations. For seven years, our team has experienced tremendous growth, and eProd is making strategic investments to prepare us for expansion. Adding Scott to our team positions us for our next wave of growth as we secure investors for Series A financing,” said Mr. Van Casteren. “Scott’s experience managing large-scale teams and his experience in strategy and risk management will only improve eProd’s product offering and service to our clients.”

About eProd

eProd Solutions provides such a solution to address supply chain management needs and challenges for agribusinesses, thus better linking small-scale farmers to agribusinesses. eProd’s software offers digitalization of key business functionalities that leads to efficiency, quality control and improved coordination of farmer and field activities. The software is robust, designed to help a small enterprise that might source from only a few hundred farmers to scale into a large agribusiness that might source from hundreds of thousands of farmers. Regardless of the agribusiness farmer extension size, eProd is designed to manage different value chains simultaneously. This includes a solution that operates off-grid – in areas where data networks for internet are weak or non-existent, as in the case where many rural farmers operate.

10 Mar 2022

A software system, not a software!

eProd's Interview with GIZ

What is the story behind eProd?

In 2004, Jan Willem and Almut van Casteren founded the inclusive business Equator Kenya Ltd. They needed a software to manage the data of the large number of smallholder farmers who were selling African Bird’s Eye chilis and paprika for the Oleoresin market to their company. To be allowed to export the products to overseas markets, full traceability was required. They decided to develop the necessary software themselves by contracting developers, a procedure which finally resulted in an innovative software product that was fully adopted to the needs of Equator Kenya Ltd. Today, the software manages the data of 8,000 smallholders contracted by the company. They are organized in 350 groups, receive loans, input, and training, and supply their produce to the company.

 

How does eProd work?

Seeing the benefit of the software for their business, Jan Willem and Almut van Casteren decided to commercialize it. In 2014, eProd was piloted successfully for various sectors and business models. Today, it offers functionalities for contracting, traceability, communication, mobile payments as well as access to loans. Moreover, eProd offers various specific solutions such as yield forecasting models, credit rating, soil testing, reporting, analytics, and quality-based payments for milk collection (including sensor technology for quality control). eProd collects information about fields, farmers, cooperatives, traders, as well as NGOs and allows all kinds of hierarchical combinations. For donors and NGOs, eProd offers a monitoring dashboard where data can be analyzed and charted.

eProd is an off-the-shelf product, which can be deployed by configurations (rather than requiring customizations) and be fully operational for the client within five days. It offers numerous application programming interfaces which allow its flexible configuration, integration, and extension for various purposes and value chains. The software is available in a cloud version and a desktop/LAN solution that can function perfectly offline for areas with very poor internet. The mobile app is developed for Android, also functions offline and synchronizes with the central database when the internet is available. The cloud version allows global access via the World Wide Web.

 

What is the business model behind eProd?

Since March 2015, eProd is commercially available through the Kenyan-based company eProd Solutions Ltd. The Kenyan company has subsidiary companies in Tanzania and in Uganda as well as an agency network across Africa. The software is used by 75 clients in 12 developing countries and reaches over 250,000 smallholders, active in over 20 different value chains, including dairy, apiculture, fishpond farming, grains, pulses, oil crops, nuts, coffee, and horticulture. Moreover, it would be a small step to make the software usable for other livestock value chains. It is available in nine different languages and more can easily be added. According to Jan Willem Van Casteren, the success of eProd lies in the fact that it was designed as an integral part of a contract farming scheme, and over the years, the needs of all parties were considered and incorporated into the software. The software not only is flexible and configurable, but it also offers programming interfaces for its integration with other systems, such as financial accountability software or ERP for the food processing industry. eProd is successfully working fully commercial but offers various pricing models to make the software affordable for different client groups. An interesting model is a lifetime license where the annual subscription fee is tripled for the first year, while for all following years only 20% of the usual annual fee has to be paid. This model is particularly interesting for donor-financed launches of the software. eProd is also working on a Freemium model, where basic services are offered for free while additional functionalities have to be paid. eProd is scaling the approach through strategic partnerships with development organizations, private partners, and the financial sector. The company is an Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund grantee and collaborates with various development organizations (e.g., DAI, RTI, GIZ) and commercial technical partners (e.g., Where, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Wageningen University and Research Center).

 

Take-away message

“Quality-based payments will be the future in many value chains”, Mr. Van Casteren believes. He highlights the quality-based milk payment system of eProd, which allows fair and transparent automated price adjustments through integrations with sensor technology. “eProd is ideal to promote a market systems development approach. The quality issues are recorded and appear on the payment overview or in an SMS message from the buyer to the producer”, he says. “The system which eProd developed is based on near-infrared spectroscopy and requires only 2–3 seconds to complete its measurements. The sensor is a mobile battery-powered device which seamlessly integrates with the eProd environment”.

 

The interview is featured on the GIZ report about Digitalizing the African Livestock Sector, read the report here.

22 Feb 2022

Buhler and eProd join forces to offer a virtual training program to African millers

Buhler Online Training Program

KENYA – Nearly seven years after opening the first-grain milling training center in the Middle East and Africa region, Buhler has partnered with eProd Solution Limited and DEG to launch a virtual training program.

This comprehensive online course will be streamed from the African Milling School in Nairobi, Kenya, offering sustainable training in basic milling technology and supply chain management.

DEG, the private sector arm of the German government-owned KFW group, is the financial partner of the project and will contribute 50% of the total costs of the project, the other 50% is being privately contributed.

According to the Swiss multinational plant equipment manufacturer, DEG’s participation is within the framework of develoPPP, a funding program for sustainable company initiatives of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

“For us, it is extremely vital to contribute towards vocational training projects as they help to strengthen the private sector and economic growth in Kenya and the East African region.

“We hope that based on our well-established relationship with Bühler Group we will cooperate further, e.g., in financially assisting future expansions,” says Antje Steiner, Director Regional Office East Africa KfW DEG.

Meanwhile, eProd will play a leading role in initiating the 14-module course program as it will deliver eight modules and Bühler will deliver the remaining six modules.

Other than offering training sessions, the program will avail tests and certify participants upon completion of the program.

The first 35 trainees will be from the Cereal Millers Association in Nairobi, Kenya will kick-off of the pilot course in March 2022.

“This project offers us a unique opportunity to craft a customized and highly efficient solution to bring to the millers to enable them to increase the quality of produce and reduce processing losses to strengthen the agri-food supply chain in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Matthias Grabe, Managing Director, Bühler East Africa.

Training program to offer sustainable solutions

The program envisaged to eventually train 250 millers, will be of benefit to the budding millers entering the market.

Buhler has highlighted that the milling industry landscape in Sub-Sahara Africa has changed a lot in recent years with many new, relatively small millers.

“They work with minimum investments and low-end technology equipment from cheap suppliers. These millers typically tend not to invest in staff training, resulting in unsafe working circumstances, lack of maintenance, and unsafe food products,” highlights Buhler.

Offering sustainable solutions, the course will offer training in procurement of the right raw materials, tailored production advice, traceability in the supply chain, among others.

“If companies want to address these quality concerns it is important to start with the supply chain and apply a holistic approach. It starts with knowing the farmers, providing them with the right seed varieties and tailored production advice, traceability in the supply chain. This can be achieved in an economic way with supply chain digitalization,” said Jan Willem van Casteren, CEO of eProd Solutions Ltd.

Successful completion of the program will enable the setting up of specific measurables in undertaking an optimum milling operation in terms of quantification, i.e., energy reduction and CO² emissions.

Read more of the publication by Food Business Africa

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24 Nov 2021

Série sur la responsabilité – Gestion de la production et de la distribution du matériel végétal sur le terrain

Batch expansion

eProd introduit un module de gestion de la production et de la distribution du matériel végétal sur le terrain. De nombreuses entreprises ont leurs propres pépinières pour pouvoir contrôler la qualité des semences ou des plants utilisés par leurs agriculteurs sous contrat afin de garantir l’accès à une certaine variété ou à du matériel végétal de haute qualité. Cependant, les entreprises manquent souvent d’outils pour gérer de manière rentable la production et la distribution de semences ou de plants sur le terrain. Dans le cas de la production et de la distribution des plants au champ, il y a plusieurs étapes, et cela peut devenir complexe à gérer. Par exemple, les semis produits en pépinière sont produits en lots qui ont chacun un code unique, les plateaux de semis individuels peuvent également avoir chacun un code unique pour la traçabilité. Les semences utilisées ont également des numéros de lot uniques.

Des plateaux de semis seront distribués aux différents agents de terrain pour être distribués aux agriculteurs. Les agriculteurs qui reçoivent des plateaux de semis paieront en espèces aux agents de terrain. Ces opérations peuvent être enregistrées via eProd, ou les semis peuvent être convertis en prêts qui seront remboursés à la livraison des produits. Les soldes de caisse et de plateaux de semis peuvent toujours être comptabilisés dans les pépinières ou lors de la distribution.

Les plants sont enregistrés avec le code de traçabilité dans les champs où ils sont plantés. Le taux de rentabilité des cultures peut désormais être contrôlé par l’agent de terrain et son superviseur.

Lors de la collecte, la traçabilité jusqu’au champ mais aussi la caisse ou le sac dans lequel les produits sont conditionné est contrôlée. La traçabilité est assurée tout au long de la chaine de valeur jusqu’au client final.

Veuillez demander une démo gratuite : info@eprod-solutions.com

Click here to view this article in English.

24 Nov 2021

Accountability Series – Management of planting material production and distribution in the field

Batch expansion

eProd introduces a module for the management of planting material production and distribution in the field. Many companies have their own nurseries to be able to control the quality of seed or seedlings used by their contracted farmers to ensure access to a certain variety of high-quality planting material. However, the companies often lack tools to manage the production and distribution of seed or seedlings in the field cost-effectively. For example, in the case of seedling production and distribution in the field, there are several stages, and this can become complex to manage. For example, the seedlings produced in the nursery are produced in batches that each has a unique code, individual seedling trays can each have a unique code for traceability as well. Seed used has unique batch numbers as well.

Seedling trays will be distributed across different field staff for distribution to farmers. Farmers that receive seedling trays will pay cash to the distributing extension officers – which can be accounted for via eProd, or the seedlings can be converted into loans that are repaid through the delivery of the produce. Cash and seedling tray balances can be always accounted for in the nurseries or during distribution.

The seedlings are registered with the traceability code in the fields where they are planted. The crop performance can now be monitored by the field staff and their supervisor. During collection the traceability to the field but also the crate or bag in which the produce is added. The traceability is ensured throughout the following value addition steps, up to the final client.

Please reach out for a free demo: info@eprod-solutions.com

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16 Jun 2021

Accountability in the field: Loan Distribution

Loan distribution in the field

 

Many companies and farmer cooperatives cannot account for loans that have been issued from their staff to the farmers. Thousands of dollars can be lost in the process, yet often companies lack a tool to manage loan distribution effectively.

Keeping track of loan distribution remains a challenge in many organizations, some challenges companies may face are:

  • Tracking distribution of loans for repayment
  • Tracking physical distribution of inputs on loans

Have a look at how eProd can help you manage your loans to farmers and distribute products against loans with ease.

Check out our latest movie here. And for more information or a live demo, please reach out info@eprod-solutions.com

 

eProd Solutions wins Mercy Corps AgriFin “Use of Digital Data to Serve Smallholders” award 

Mercy Corps AgriFin congratulates eProd Solutions on Use of Digital Data to serve Smallholders award

 

19 Apr 2021

eProd Solutions wins Mercy Corps AgriFin “Use of Digital Data to Serve Smallholders” award

Mercy Corps AgriFin congratulates eProd Solutions on Use of Digital Data to serve Smallholders award

Mercy Corps AgriFin announced during the 2021 online Learning Event (ALE) the winners of the “Use of Digital Data to serve Smallholder farmers” award. This year the award has actually gone to three different organisations. The first of those is Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) in Kenya, who worked with multiple providers to combine their data and support the incubation of a number of services on their platform. The second is Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) in Ethiopia, who have been working over a number of years to digitize data within their organisation and are increasingly combining those into the ATA data hub that’s being used to support decision making and greater intelligence, but also the support of agricultural commercialisation clusters which are reaching many millions of farmers now. “The third [award winner in this category] is eProd Solutions who is a leading ERP and digitization service provider and they have been working to crowd in a number of other service providers using the data from their clients to illustrate the potential of serving smallholder farmers in terms of credit, weather information and advisory services, among others.” Matt Shakhovskoy, Senior Advisor at ISF Advisors and advisory committee member with the Mercy Corps AgriFin program.

We are very proud to have been selected to win the “Use of Digital Data to serve Smallholders” award at #AgriFinALE2021 as recognition of our contribution to the agricultural sector in developing countries.

Mercy Corps AgriFin and eProd Solutions collaboration

B2B marketing of supply chain management platforms: How can we measure socio economic impact to attract impact investors?

In 2016, eProd Solutions first had discussions with Mercy Corps AgriFin through Sieka Gatabaki. The discussions looked at how, as an IT company, eProd Solutions can create value to attract investors. Investors are often interested in creating socioeconomic impact or enviromental impact, and the question came as to how to prove that in a case like eProd Solutions that applies a B2B (business to business) sales model.

eProd Solutions Limited Technical Director discusses collaboration with Mercy Corps AgriFin

Mid-last year, we had the opportunity through AgrFin to partner with and 60 decibels to study the potential impact that we actually achieve. In collaboration with one of the long-term clients of eProd Solutions at the coast of Kenya. Busara studied a longitudinal database and 60 Decibels interviewed hundreds of farmers which resulted in very valuable insights and reports that we have been able to share with potential investors. Hopefully, this will lead to raise the capital that we need to finance our continuous expansion.

07 Apr 2021

Accountability in the field: Input distribution

 

Famer cooperatives, food processors or agricultural commodity traders typically encounter challenges when it comes to digitally tracking and traceability of agro-inputs that are sent to the field: they enter a Black Box, and nobody can be held accountable anymore in case items disappear. Often the Excel sheet or manual paper-based management systems put in place are ineffective in capturing efficiently all the data within the supply chain management system, resulting in companies losing thousands of dollars each year.

“We have got Sage to account to our directors for our financial situation, but we have eProd to account for everything else”, says Michael Maina, Malindi based Production Manager of Equator Kenya Ltd, a company using eProd for contracting thousands of small holder farmers at the coast of Kenya for chili production for the premium export market. The agricultural inputs that arrive at the office can be assigned by the Storekeeper to the Production Manager for dispatching to the field. A farmer who qualifies can receive the inputs from the Field Extension Officers who can convert them into a cash payment or farmer loans. Loans can be deducted automatically from product delivery through check-off system. Receipts of the transactions can be printed on the spot. Each input can be accounted for at all steps which allows agribusinesses to focus on their core activities and continue to build trust relationships with the suppliers.

The advantage of eProd is that the accounting is baked into the software code throughout the platform. Each of the multiple modules assists to account and thus reduce theft, corruption, or inefficiencies because of general mismanagement. Examples are the maker-checker principles for numerous processes dealing with funds, such as farmer payment and sending emails. eProd Solutions offers an affordable agricultural value chain management ICT platform, or ERP (Enterprise Resources Planning tool), for agribusinesses such as agricultural commodity traders, food processors and farmer cooperatives. The system can manage field administration processes, production contracts, field inspections, surveys, collections, traceability, certification/market compliance, field trials, (e-) extension, communication per SMS (including automated localized weather forecasts, agronomic info), yield forecasting, collections, collection routes, farmer delivery payments via mobile devices (e.g. e-wallet) or bank accounts, quality-based payment, incentives, compulsory savings, credit scoring, automated loan repayment, M&E, analytics and reporting, planning, etc.

The software is used in 25+ different value chains, such as grains (rice, maize, sorghum, millet, barley), pulses (common bean, chickpea, mung bean), oil crops (sunflower, sesame), nuts (cashew, macadamia, almonds, pistachio), coffee, cocoa, spices, fresh vegetables, dairy, apiculture etc., in 14 different countries and available in 9 different languages.

Check out our demonstration movie. For more information or a live demo, please reach out info@eprod-solutions.com