e-agro: agro e-commerce marketplace

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About

What is e-agro: in a nutshell, is an agro e-commerce marketplace (somehow like e-bay or amazon) non-profit organization that offers the chance to promote agricultural products and services globally 24/7 straight to users; thus eliminating intermediaries and associated costs. The transaction will be done directly between buyers and producers, and also enabling agro-related and third-party services. website under constructioneagro.org Social commitment: although e-agro is leading a "healthy global e-project", an extensive and large group of smallholder and family farmers lack access to appropriate markets and farming resources. e-agro will address global key market access challenges of rural agriculture by empowering farmers and helping improve their livelihoods and integration into the agro chain. The story: in 2013, while working in Colombia, I had the opportunity to meet a couple of smallholder farmers. They represented their rural associations, who had been displaced by violence during the Country’s internal conflict. I asked and invited them to share a tinto (local coffee). During this time, I heard their stories and difficult situation. Once I returned to The Netherlands, I consulted a Dutch logistics expert (Stig Delta) familiarized with agriculture to give me some light on what to do. Together, we met and exchanged experiences with other Dutch parties among a university and the government. The latter supported in 2015, an initiative to develop an agro-logistic blueprint in the northern Colombian region. This initiative was presented to the farmers, and to private, public and educational parties for their support between 2016-2017. Although all parties welcomed the initiative as a solution, the regional government is still indecisive. Learning experience: through more than five years learning experience and consulting on agro-logistics together with Dutch experts, I have had the opportunity to interact with smallholder farmers in Colombia and also with middle and high-scale producers, including neighboring countries. At the same time, and through missions, networking, fairs, I have met and spoken to traders, wholesalers, supermarket chains, transportation companies, government officials, NGO’s, among others. Some elements to highlight during the learning experience:
  • an incredible offer of coffee, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and oils (asked to become middleman)
  • most smallholder farmers own mobile phones
  • most smallholder farmers are grouped in associations or cooperatives
Also, I came across the 2018 world fruit & vegetable maps (below), a research made by Rabobank, where they clearly point out some trade flows and highlight key global trends for both sectors. They can be used as a reference to support the fact that an agro e-commerce platform has exponential room for growth: for example, it can provide information about product availability by geographic location and new market opportunities.
Conceptual layout: in April 2017, while learning coding basics on codecademy.com, I realized that somehow existing technologies COULD help bridge the agro-trade global gap. This, together with the agro-logistics’ learning process and desire to help, triggered an idea. To make it enduring and not just a one-time initiative, it needed to be for the common good and become self-sustainable. Concepts I learned in the time I was the executive director for the North-South Foundation in Colombia. I borrowed and adapted a scope of agro-logistics made by Wageningen University and designed the project’s conceptual layout, mainly considering the social component expressed below.
Social component and objective: address global key market access challenges of rural agriculture by empowering smallholder farmers and to improve their livelihoods and integrate them into the agro chain. Why this matters: when smallholders prosper, they improve their livelihoods. With the extra income, they invest in their community: better homes, schools, infrastructure, equipment, healthcare, and in general, the environment around them supporting the common good.
The project idea: e-agro a freemembership e-commerce marketplace with enormous possibilities!  eagro.org 
Some key elements: 
Consideration: selling produce directly to traders can be impressive. Until one realizes that performing tens of thousands of purchases, support, etc. doesn’t scale as easily as one could assume. On the contrary, wholesaling can provide more control and revenue, less logistical headaches, and even fewer expenses spent on shipping and support services. On the other hand, it will allow e-agro to concentrate on volume sale transactions to make a revenue. How It Works: instead of traveling hours to bring their produce, farmers can use their phones to reach the world. Mobile phones and apps can help them upload product pictures, information, share elements that otherwise will be expensive for them to acquire; an example can be the use of “uber agro apps” for trucks, tractors, and equipment only necessary for specific tasks.
Benefits - producers: the use of the internet by a collective of smallholder farmers (also by middle and large-scale ones) to connect to a responsive online platform (also with a mobile). Through the platform, they can promote and request products and services locally and globally. - buyers: the chance to scout global offer, and post requests, save money!
- agro-related services providers (a sea of opportunities): produce needs to be collected, stored, packed, transported, certified either for local or international markets. Along the chain, agro-logistic related products and services are needed and integrated. Also, governments, organizations, and educational institutes will participate according to their roles.
Actions taken: to better understand the consideration and interaction between computers (also mobiles), internet, and websites,
  • I participated on Le Wagon’s demo-day coding bootcamp in Amsterdam (lewagon.com/demoday)
  • 10-day full-time coding bootcamp in Rotterdam (daysofcode.nl) where I learned (Full Stack: HTML & CSS, Ruby & Rails) how to build a web application with user input (e-agro.org)
  • Later on, I asked codaisseur.com to help me address some key features of the website; together we made it more robust to facilitate user communication and transactions.
Risk and Challenges: an online platform has advantages compared to traditional business, but with advantages also come challenges. - Security: it is important to always maintain security measures to minimize risks and maximize trade interactions. To trade online and offer agro-related services, users will be asked to provide their information and upload a chamber of commerce certificate. Once verified, access is granted.
  • Access: only authorized user will have access to the section(s) required. Access control’s for mobile devices, tablets and PC’s will be implemented.
  • Protection: users basic information data will be available, detailed information will be only provided at the moment of a transaction and a bill. A user-visible feedback will be implemented after a transaction has been completed. NO credit cards or bank information will be requested, online payments will be provided through specific verified and trusted channels.
  • Validity: the web data is daily updated. All user products and services will have expiration dates.
- Flexibility: is a great advantage that brings e-agro. Being 24/7 and accessible from any location through the internet removes the restrictions of availability and location. It also allows users to trade on the go. - The competition: it might seem complicated. For a start-up business, the Internet provides a competitive advantage because a “marketplace” can equally be seen as many other online companies. It is a threat because start-up costs are lower than traditional ones, which welcome others to develop similar ideas. Steps to excel from the competition:  
Business model: in direct consultation with (most) producers and buyers, I chose an e-commerce Business to Business (B2B) business model (wholesaling to buyers) to provide online products and related services from one business to another. This model is perfect since smallholder farmers are already grouped and they can supply in bulk. And additionally: e-agro will become a non-profit organization (NPO) which will not be driven by profit but by dedication. In other words, e-agro will have no owners. Its surplus profits after operating expenses will be used to further the organization's goals instead of being distributed between members or employees of the organization. e-agro needs initial funds to start. These funds will help scale into a social or non-profit organization that will eventually cover its own costs. To become self-sustainable, a revenue-producing activity will be generated by charging fair commissions to transactions and service providers. This will provide the organization with funds and give donors (users) the ability to view their grants (transactions) as charitable investments.   Why Earth Project? it allows every person, with a small or large capacity for giving, to have an impact and get directly involved in supporting a social project. I am very certain that this initiative will grow on you and additionally, it will create a positive impact-based solution to a Sustainable Development.
How much: if e-agro can raise €25,000 – we can publicly launch eagro.org e-commerce service by November. This will mean all global users (farmers, producers, buyers and service providers) are able to directly interact and trade online. This is our 'tipping point' goal - Earth Project has an "all or nothing" policy. Meaning, if we do not make our goal, we get nothing! Where will the initial funds go:
  • set up e-agro into a non-profit organization (NPO)
  • internet service access
  • set up and manage eagro.org (domain name already reserved and a website)
  • integrate basic architecture to WordPress and expand website features and plugins: (e-commerce, memberships, template, others)
  • access to specialized databases & information
  • promote website
  • support marketing strategy via online services, trade-related events, governments, organizations, others
  • support strategic alliances & partnerships
  • Earth Project’s fees
If e-agro can raise €75,000 or more we can launch a full service by 2019. Although the platform has initially been thought and designed about mainly to deal on agro-trade related services, the technology can serve as a basis for many useful applications (f.e., Trade Toolbox) and manage information far beyond these transactions. It can gather and combine multiple live data feeds to facilitate trade and provide a global view on agriculture-related topics for the effective use of resources to tackle specific solutions and the common good; for example, an option to address the United Nations zero hunger goal Serious stuff  
How will e-agro help? Data Collection: an efficient database management system will provide information about users’ behavior; the more global users signed into our platform, the more accurate the data will become. With the use of mobiles, tablets and PC’s, it will be possible to capture direct information from users (especially farmers) which at the moment it is not available and their digital geolocation. With this information, we can accurately map where they live and work, trading patterns, required services and needs. To facilitate global trade, the platform will gather and combine multiple live data feeds. This, along with other economic and social data, will provide key users with a global view to analyze the effective use of resources and flows with a focus on trade, food production, and security, agriculture, logistics, rural development, to determine priorities, actions, and measures and improve our livelihoods.

Risks and challenges

************************* ******* Challenge ******* ************************* This is my first Earth Project project! Although I am fully aware that it looks like a very large endeavor (a multi-armed giant that feels too overwhelming to control), I can tell you all that it can be managed with specific software packages and determination. To do this, I had to identify the elements and players within the whole initiative which later helped me turn an agro-logistic sketch into a concept layout. Once in pieces and analyzed, it made the big picture more clear. The agro-logistic project (explained above) I started in 2013, made me believe that change is spiral and once it starts, it changes the way we do things. I started only thinking about helping others, and although it has not been implemented, it brought a group of organizations and people together and made certain players stronger. I see e-agro as an answer to political agendas and as a means to an end - the common good. I have estimated eagro.org to be ready and operational by November 2018. This means it will allow users to register and interact. The toolbox and other services will be slowly incorporated until it becomes fully operational by mid-2019.
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