I had the privilege to grow up in a community in Ghana where seeds can sprout easily without any field preparation. As a son to one of the best smallholder farmers in the community, I was exposed to the different phases in crop farming at an early age. These memories have contributed a lot to my way of thinking and how I approach issues in crop farming. 

I still remember how my father and his colleague farmers in the community struggle to keep a record of their seed produce. My father, for instance, uses different colours of pieces of clothes to tie the packaging materials.  This approach is used to track and trace individual packages. I also remember clearly how he uses gravels to count and keep record of his corn produce. These gravels are kept in a transparent rubber and anytime a bag of corn is sold he throws away one of the gravels.

He also uses to add one gravel anytime a bag of corn is added to his produce or in case someone returns any of his produce. It was interesting to know how he engaged me as his medium or channel of communication to disseminate and receive information from his colleague farmers and buyers. I used to walk back and forth for more miles to deliver and receive information concerning his farming activities on his behalf.

The above preamble shows how data management and traceability in the Seed supply chain have evolved for the past years. The current business and regulatory needs of consumers have put tremendous pressure on stakeholders regarding food data management and traceability systems, but the issues highlighted in the previous paragraph persist. I was surprised on my last visit in 2016 to see that majority of the seed producers in this same community in Ghana still employ this same approach of using different colours of clothes to keep track of their produce. The only improvement currently is the use of a paper-based system to keep record instead of the gravels.

Traceability Concerns in Seeds Supply Chain

In the Seed supply chain, traceability forms part of the key concepts because it serves as the main requirement for seed certification programs. This involves the ability to captures, stores and transmits adequate information about the history of the origin, production process and handling steps and stakeholders in the seed supply chain. Also, can it be classified into process and origin.

1: Consumers want to have a broad view of the life cycle of seeds 

Traceability in the seeds supply chain has become a relevant concern presently. This can be attributed to safety and quality control issues in the food sector. Currently, consumers want to have a broad view of the life cycle of seeds as they move through the different phases in their production and marketing channels. For instance, consumers want to be updated about information concerning parent lines of crops, phytosanitary treatments, protocols for cleaning the seeds, human rights and labor issues. This demand from current breeds of consumers has triggered the implementation of programs to reduce consumer risks.

2: Difficult to capture data and information exchange

Despite these, there are several traceability challenges well-known by the stakeholders in the Seed supply chain. Issues concerning inadequate identifiers of lot on shipment documents, difficulties in track and trace of packing boxes and difficulties in managing cumulative record of produce blended together form part of the traceability challenges in the sector. Again, a number of seed produce are also conveyed through an unconventional medium. This also makes it difficult for data capturing and information exchange. In a situation where lots are used, most of the lots are created artificially, and such an approach is prone to errors.

3: Paper-bases system still in existence

Most of the producers still use the paper-based system to keep record of their crop treatment. With such a system, it is always difficult to keep accurate record and trace type and origin of inputs, pests and diseases. These concerns make it challenging for the stakeholders in the sector to have access to real-time traceability information. The lack of information technology with well-developed traceability functionality has been recognized as the root cause of the issues highlighted above.

Role of digitization in the seeds supply chain

Digitizing the seeds supply chain implies creating or converting the physical or non-digital things such as paper-based forms, images etc. into a digital format that can be used by computing systems. This approach will help promote a pathway for leveraging data collection, management and analysis. This will increase cost effectiveness and efficiencies.

Planning & sourcing stage

At the planning and sourcing stage in the seeds supply chain, digital solutions could be used to plan area, labors, machines and materials. It can also be useful in providing insights into selecting a reliable producer and crop insurance where appropriate.

Production management stage

At the production management phase, innovative digital solutions could be useful in managing the activities on the farm and in the greenhouses. These include alerting producers on weather events, providing alerts on when to inspect and treat crops. Advanced digital solutions could also help to create new observation by providing alerts on who, when and where the observation relates. This kind of solutions could also be used to capture and store the chemical/ fertilizer application of crops.

Post-harvest stage

At the post-harvest stage, digital solutions would be helpful in electronically assigning unique identifiers to lots, package boxes, capturing and storing phytosanitary documents information. With such solutions, data inconsistencies will be eliminated, data will be easily available and accessible. Information concerning the physical location of seeds, genetic constitution of seeds, and sequences of the activities in the seed process can be exchanged easily.

There are several mobile applications and modern ERP solutions in the market that could be valuable in digitizing the seeds supply chains. This blog highlights the role of ERP solutions in digitizing the seeds supply chain.

Role of ERP in seeds supply chain digitization

Currently, ERP software has been recognized as an integrated business software that supports diversified business processes. ERP is a management information system that provides value to the business in areas such as production planning, sales, order management, accounting, distribution, inventory control and human resource. With ERP package, the different departments or responsibility centres in a company can communicate and share real-time information. The flexibility associated with these modern ERP systems makes it easier to plan and manage the biological business processes in the horticulture sector. Modern ERP packages also give easy accessibility and sharing of data and information across supply chains.

Mprise Agriware is a typical example of such systems that provide functionalities for planning and sourcing, production management, and post-harvest activities. The system provides the flexibility to enter data, store every bit of data and retrieve data at ease. The system connects and provides an update to stakeholders in the supply chain network. This allows users to track all volumes of products, materials etc. moving through their supply chain network.  Mprise ERP also has direct system-to-system communication with the Fieldbook App that makes it easy to capture and share field information.

Modern ERP systems such as the Mprise Agriware would be valuable in digitizing the seed supply chains. This will help to handle seeds legislation, safety and quality control, certification, welfare and seeds supply chain optimization.

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