Farmers Digital Engagement Platform - An understanding | 20 April 2018
Earlier this month, the National Institute of Science, Technology and Innovation (Nisti) announced that it will be introducing a Knowledge Management Platform which will ensure that research outcomes, reports and metadata in Seychelles are curated, documented, archived and available for access to all stakeholders. One of its components will be a Farmers Digital Engagement Platform (FDEP) which aims to move Seychelles a step further towards becoming a knowledge-based economy.
The proposed FDEP, which will be hosted locally and implemented by a team of Seychellois, is a voluntary team effort brought forward by Nisti as well as members of the Seychelles Agricultural Agency (SAA). The farming community is also involved since they are believed to be the key to the design and success of the platform.
According to the proposal, Seychelles is dependent on food importation which is an unsustainable and high-risk situation. It is felt that the current approach of trading agriculture products in Seychelles is limited, tiresome and costly which in turn, has an impact on prices to the end consumers.
In order to help the country in its efforts to increase and optimise local production of food, it is proposed that the SAA invests in an up-to-date and quality information system to track and measure various attributes that are necessary for better decision making, planning and servicing.
Farmers can use the FDEP to promote, market and sell their products to a wider target audience (both individuals and businesses). For consumers, the platform creates more awareness and information about the availability, quality and characteristics of local products. They will also be able to place orders on a computer or smartphone without the hassle of running around between farmers or point of sales.
The development of the FDEP contains three areas of focus:
- Farmer Relationship Management (FRM) - a centralised application to manage information and relationships about farmers, farms, products, assets, issues and workers. This app is at the core of the overall and long-term implementation for the FDEP.
- Farmer Data Capture Mobile App - a minimalistic app with relevant features that is user-friendly and works in both online and offline modes to allow farmers and SAA field agents to directly feed the FRM application with real time information.
- Consumer Marketplace Portal (CMP) - a modern and responsive digital marketplace portal for farmers to market their produce. It provides consumers with the characteristics and availability of local products. Consumers can also engage directly with the farmers, place orders or provide feedback.
The FRM app will bring a number of benefits to the farming community in Seychelles and to SAA’s day-to-day operational activities. For example,
- Helping SAA to become an improved information organisation
- Enhancing communication within SAA and with the farming community
- Improving farmer relations
- Automating everyday tasks
- Improving analytical data and reporting
- Providing SAA with real-time and quality information for better decision making
According to the team working on the project, building a custom FRM app from scratch is an expensive and huge undertaking. They therefore recommend using an off-the-shelf platform (SugarCRM Customer Relationships Platform) upon which the FRM app can be customised to support the SAA’s requirements.
SugarCRM is an innovative, highly flexible, scalable and affordable customer relationship management platform for small and medium sized business. It is web-based, meaning that the end users only need to have access to a web browser to access the app and it supports most major devices.
Most modern web-based business apps require the support of a Technology Stack to function, and the FRM app is of no exception to this. The Technology Stack tack typically includes Web and Database apps, an Operating System and a Programming Language. The FRM app will support the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) Technology Stack which is open source, widely popular and free of charge.
The FRM app can be deployed in a cloud or on premise, however, with the rise of cloud computing, many businesses have been moving towards cloud deployment to reduce both initial and on-going operational costs. Some of the key advantages of deploying the FRM app on a cloud are:
- Faster implementation and ramp-up time to productive use of the application
- Lower upfront and ongoing costs
- No additional information technology (IT) infrastructure for servers, storage, networks, and cabling
- No additional IT resources to support the infrastructure
- Cloud vendors provide an enterprise-class infrastructure with appropriate servers, networking and storage systems, and they are responsible for: frequent upgrades; regular data backups, and ensuring security and compliance requirements
It is also recommended that a Virtual Private Server (VPS) is used in a cloud platform to host the FRM app. The deployment architecture is as follows:
The FRM application will be planned and implemented using the Agile Implementation Methodology -- an iterative, quick turn-around and team-based approach to implementation. It emphasises rapid delivery of an app in complete functional components.
Using Agile, SAA can identify their requirements and group these into ‘Sprints’ – each of which have a defined duration (usually in weeks) with a running list of deliverables. The deliverables are prioritised by business value as determined by SAA and other stakeholders. Using Agile, the FRM app can be up and running in a matter of weeks while additional functionalities are continuously added to adapt to business changes and expansions.
Manfred Laporte, a team member on the project, explains that our population tends to purchase/accept ICT technology stacks from abroad and tries to make it work here, however, most of these technology stacks are designed for rich countries with good networking infrastructure/low telecom costs and sadly, we do not have this luxury in Seychelles.
This has led the team behind the FDEP to select and customise a technology stack that is light, cost effective and adaptable to local users and infrastructures. Farmers and consumers will not use the platform if it requires them to be constantly online and if it consumes a lot of their mobile/broadband data. Adaptability, availability and cost are key criteria in the design of the platform, hence why the team is developing a platform that can work both online/offline and requires minimal mobile or broadband data to run.
They are also planning to use the FDEP as an example to educate other local start-ups about using modern, low-cost and adaptable ICT technologies to solve day-to-day common issues and/or processes impacting Seychelles and improve people’s lives.