Development of an interactive web portal for Kenyan Tea  

Ngige W. John1 , Kinyua K. Johnson2 , Kariuki Daniel3 , Gitonye W. Christopher4 , Mwangi John5
1. School of Science, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology
2. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
3. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
4. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
5. Mount Kenya University
Author    Correspondence author
Journal of Tea Science Research, 2015, Vol. 5, No. 4   doi: 10.5376/jtsr.2015.05.0004
Received: 17 Mar., 2015    Accepted: 23 Jun., 2015    Published: 08 Jul., 2015
© 2015 BioPublisher Publishing Platform
This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Preferred citation for this article:

Ngige W. John, Kinyua K. Johnson, Kariuki Daniel, Gitonye W .Christopher and Mwangi John, 2015, Development of an interactive web portal for Kenyan Tea, Journal of Tea Science Research, 5(4), 1-11 (doi: 10.5376/jtsr.2015.05.0004)


In Kenya the tea sector’s growth is dependent on tea production, marketing and research. For better performance of these key areas, information flow is critical. However the information flow is still poor due to lack of an effective information delivery system. Although development of web sites and other cross platform tea information systems have made information sharing easier and faster than ever, their dynamic, unstructured nature and lack of necessary level of interaction limit their potential in the information delivery. The exponential growth of these resource platforms has also resulted to scattering of the information widely which makes it difficult for users to obtain the desired information efficiently. Marketing is also ineffective due to lack of an online marketing tool for the Kenyan tea, and with the increased global market competition posed by the major tea producers in the world, Kenya is faced with major threats in maintaining its tea market share. In this project an interactive web portal was developed as a resource platform for tea, that would bring together the tea information into an integrated “one-stop shop” for improved efficiency in information access and retrieval, and to provide a marketing platform for the Kenyan tea. The development process involved; designing of web portal architecture, development of the system components, system testing and hosting the program on World Wide Web. The following utilities with outstanding features were used to develop the portal; Joomla! 3.2, XAMPP, PHP5.3.1, MySQL 5.1.41, PhpMyAdmin, Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 and site extensions including; PixSearch, Joom!Fish, VirtueMart and JomSocial. The web portal was then evaluated in JKUAT based on organization of information, friendliness of the user interface and efficiency in information access and retrieval. This project was based on qualitative research that involved interviews, observations, documents and literature analysis. It was expected that this work would have a positive impact on tea production, marketing and research, and subsequently ensuring development of the tea industry in Kenya.

Tea sector in Kenya; Information flow; Global market competition; Web portal

1.1 Background information
Tea (Camellia sinensis) is an extremely important crop because of its popularity as a beverage and as a source of beneficial secondary metabolites (Kerio et al., 2011). In Kenya it is an important commodity and is ranked as the third major foreign exchange earner, behind tourism and horticulture, contributing to about 26% of all foreign exchange earnings and 4% of the gross domestic product (TBK, 2010).
Tea production, marketing and research are the key factors that determine growth of the tea sector in Kenya. Performance of these key areas is dependent on availability and access to information. However the information flow within the tea industry is poor due to lack of an effective information delivery system. Marketing which is also an essential integral element of the tea sector development in Kenya is ineffective due to lack of a reliable marketing platform for the Kenyan tea, and with the increased global market competition posed by the major tea producers in the world including China, India and Sri Lanka, Kenya is faced with major threats in maintaining its tea market share. Although web-based tea information systems have, in a great deal, improved the information flow within the tea sector, these resource platforms are limited in terms of their efficiency in the information delivery due to their unstructured nature. The difficulties to access information are due to multiple application presentation of content from disparate sources and different interfaces which leads to user dissatisfaction. This project was therefore aimed at developing an interactive web portal as a resource platform for teathat would consolidate the scattered information into a single place, with an integrated access to variety of tea resources and services in a secure, consistent and customized manner, and which would provide a marketing platform for the Kenyan tea.
A web portal is an online service that brings information together from diverse sources in a uniform and organized format, owing to its design (Davidson et al.,1995). It provides a personalized, single point access to resources and has features that offer services such as forums, e-mail, entertainments, news, search functions and links to other web resources. The portal was developed following waterfall model which involves the following steps; requirement analysis, design, implementation, testing and system maintenance (Royce, 1970).
1.2 Statement of the problem
Access, efficiency and affordability of information in the tea industry in Kenya continue to be the major impediment for improving its performance. While the tea web resources have improved information sharing, their unreliability, dynamic and unstructured nature limit their potential in the information delivery. With the increasing number of these resource platforms, users have to manually browse through several web pages in order to obtain the desired information which is quite tedious, time consuming and costly hence negatively affecting the information flow. Marketing is also ineffective due to lack of an online marketing platform for the Kenyan tea which is still traded as an agricultural commodity making it vulnerable to supply and demand pressure (Kilele et al., 2013).
The main challenge is to organize the available large amount of information on tea to suit different end-users, to improve efficiency in information access and retrieval, to provide a marketing platform for the Kenyan tea and the necessary level of interaction.
1.3 Justification
Kenya depends on Agriculture for its sustainability and good Agricultural performance translates into measurable improvements in the quality of life (Kimenyi, 2002). The tea sector in Kenya provides employment and livelihood to many people across the value chain (TBK, 2010).
To facilitate coordination between the supply chain partners, information sharing is essential (Elias et al., 2012). There has been demand in the tea sector to promote information exchange and access which is still poor due to lack of an effective information delivery system. For example, the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya has developed forty five varieties of tea (TBK, 2013), of which farmers are yet to adopt due to lack of information about their availability and potential. There is need to improve the information delivery through adoption of Information technology (IT) which in Agriculture increases the effectiveness and efficiency of information flow and use in the sector (Thompson et al., 1997).
The rapid development of web based information resources and accessibility of internet at a worldwide level has resulted to establishment of web portals as one of the paradigms which are implemented to provide integrated access to a huge number of heterogeneous and autonomous information resources. The potential of web portals in information delivery is incredible, therefore development of the Kenyan tea portal would improve efficiency in information delivery through consolidating data from multiple sources into a local warehouse. It would also enhance capability to effectively store, process, provide uniform access to the information thus limiting redundancy, increasing efficiency in dissemination of information and facilitating a dynamic exchange of the information. The portal would also facilitate marketing of the Kenyan tea which would ensure increased sales and achievement of a sustainable competitive advantage giving Kenya a firm footing in the world tea market. Information promotes competition and improves market performance (Thompson et al., 1997).
The web portal would therefore greatly benefit the tea industry in Kenya which the government of Kenya lists as one of the pillars of realizing the government’s Vision 2030 (GoK, 2007).
1.4 Objectives
1.4.1 General objective:
To develop an interactive web portal as a resource platform for Kenyan tea
1.4.2 Specific objectives
1. To design the system architecture
2. To develop the system components
3. To test the system; functionality testing, usability testing, interface testing, compatibility testing and performance testing.
4. To validate the requirements of the portal based on organization of information, friendliness of the user interface and efficiency in information access and retrieval.
5. To deploy the portal on World Wide Web.
2 Literature Review
2.1 Review on the tea industry in Kenya
Tea was first introduced in Kenya from India in 1903 by G.W.L, Caine, a European settler who planted the seedlings in Limuru, near Nairobi (TBK, 2010). Since its commercialization in 1924, the tea industry has experienced significant growth and today tea plantations cover over 157,720 hectares, with production of about 345,817 metric tonnes of made tea, most of which is black tea. However green tea, Oolong, yellow tea and white tea are produced on order (TBK, 2010).
The tea industry operates under the auspices of Ministry of Agriculture that bears responsibility to the government. There are several institutions that play different roles ensuring excellence of the industry including; Tea Board of Kenya (TBK) which is a statutory body under the ministry of Agriculture that manages the tea industry on behalf of the government. Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK) facilitates tea research. Kenya Tea Development Agency Ltd (KTDA) is the management agency of the small holder tea growers that manages the small-holder tea sub-sector. Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) is an association of large-scale tea producers. Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation (NTZDC) is a state corporation established to manage the tea belts around the forest zones that buffers the natural forests protecting it from human encroachment. And finally the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) is an association of tea producers, brokers, buyers and packers and is the auspices under which Mombasa tea auction is conducted (TBK, 2010).
2.2 Review on web portals and its development process
An evolution of a portal can be traced back to the original concept of Internet and Web technologies, which introduced the perspective and concept of the Internet, Intranet and Extranet. In early evolution of the portal, a Web portal was recognized as a search engine whose main purpose was to facilitate information available throughout the Internet. Today there are many different definitions of portal, however in IT context the term “portal” is developed gradually as an entry point to relevant information on the Internet. The key features of a portal emphasized in most of the definitions are the interactive nature, dynamic and goal oriented aspects, and the ability of users to exchange information with other users on the web portal.
Portals are classified into two types; horizontal and vertical portals. Horizontal portals offer many wide range and variety of contents and services and do not focus on certain target group or topic, but on many topics such as news, stocks, weather, and sports among others. Examples of this type of portal include; Yahoo, Excite, Alta Vista, Infoseek and Lycos. On the other hand the vertical portal offers specific content and services, but covers specific topics in more details. Examples of this type of portal include; educational portals and corporate portals that provide personalized access to the chosen information of the specific organization.
The nature of the developed Kenyan portal is vertical since the portal was developed to offer specific content and services on tea.
2.2.1 Portal development process
Portal development process is also referred to as System Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This is a conceptual model that describes the stages involved in a system development project from initial feasibility study through maintenance of a complete application request. Various SDLC methodologies have been developed to guide the processes involved in software development including; Waterfall model, Rapid application development (RAD), Joint application development (JAD), Iterative model, Incremental model, V-model, Agile model and Spiral Model. Each process model follows a particular life cycle in order to ensure success in process of software development.
In this project the waterfall model was employed because of its simplicity, cost effective and easy progress control. The waterfall model was developed by Winston W. Royce in 1970 (Royce, 1970).
3 Material and Methods
3.1 Study area and materials
A web portal was developed as a resource platform for the Kenyan tea using the following utilities; Joomla! 3.2, XAMPP, PHP 5.3.1, MySQL 5.1.41, PhpMyAdmin, Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 and site extensions for improving the portal functionalities, including: PixSearch, Joom!Fish and JomSocial.
3.1.1 Joomla!
Joomla! is an open source content management system (CMS) that was used to handle the content of a web site because it provides multiple functionalities with capability to organize and manage the contents of a site rather than developing the site contents from the scratch. The programming languages behind Joomla! are PHP, SQL, MySQL, HTML and CSS. Joomla! 3.2 was obtained from its main site
3.1.2 XAMPP
XAMPP (A cross platform Apache Mysql Php Processor) is an open source cross-platform web server package including the Apache HTTP Server, Mysql (My Structure Query Language) database and interpreters for scripts written in PHP (PHP: Hypertext Processor) and Perl programming languages. It was used as a development environment that allowed the web portal to be tested on the computer without any access to the internet. The program was used because of its contents, small size and portability. XAMPP was downloaded from
3.1.3 PHP
PHP (PHP:Hypertext Preprocessor) is a server-side scripting language designed for web development but also used as a general-purpose programming language. PHP was used because of its text processing features that enable outputting of HTML, image, PDF files and even any text such as XHTML and XML. It also works well with Mysql databases and can be deployed on most web servers and operating systems.
3.1.4 HTML
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is the standard markup language for web pages that web browsers use to interpret and compose text, images and other materials into visual or audible web pages. HTML elements were used as the building blocks together with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) which is the recommended way to control the presentation layer in a web document of a site.
3.1.5 MYSQL
Mysql (My Structured Query Language) is an open source relational database management system (RDBMS). Mysql was used because is a popular choice of database for use in web applications, has fast performance, high reliability and can run on virtually every platform.
3.1.6 PhpMyAdmin
PhpMyAdmin is an open source utility which is written in PHP. It was used because of its user friendly interface and the ability to connect the PHP script with the database by using the phpMyAdmin service.
3.1.7 Adobe Dreamweaver
Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 which is a proprietary web development tool developed by Adobe systems was used as an editing environment for the HTML tags of templates. It was used because of its ability to facilitate rapid layout design and code generation, as it allows users to quickly create and manipulate the layout of HTML elements. It also provided transfer and synchronization features and a template feature that allowed single-source update of shared code and layout across entire sites without server-side scripting.
3.2 Development procedure
The methodology used to design and develop the web portal involved waterfall model (Royce, 1970).
The steps involved are as outlined in Figure 1.

Figure 1 waterfall model (Royce, 1970)

Requirement analysis
The requirement analysis process involved a detailed study of the system requirements through feasibility study, elicitation and analysis. Information about the required system and existing systems were gathered in order to define the user requirements and system requirements. The user requirements included the services that the system was expected to provide to the users, the required system performance and the constraints under which it were to operate. On the other hand the system requirements included a more detailed description of the software system’s functions, services and operational constraints.
The requirements were based on two major categories: functional requirements and non-functional requirements. The functional requirements analysis involved determining what the program should do. Here the functions of the system were determined. The non-functional requirements on the other hand were those that were not directly concerned with the specific services delivered by the system to users. They were important but not related to the functions of the program and were basically constraints on the functions offered by the system.
These requirements were established through extensive literature review and interaction through interviews with some of the tea industry stakeholders including; Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation, Kenya Tea Development Agency and the Tea Board of Kenya.
3.2.2 System design
In the system design process the overall system architecture was established, this helped to identify the main structural components in the system and the relationships between them. The process focused on high level design and low-level design. The high level design involved defining what programs were needed and to determine how they would interact, while low-level design determined how the individual programs were going to work.
The four main activities that were part of the design process included;
1. Architectural design: Here the overall structure of the system was identified and the principle components and their relationships were determined. The design involved defining the content, site structure, application logic, graphic design, and navigation schemes.
2. Interface design: The interfaces between the system components were defined. All the Web pages in the application and how the content was to be distributed among them were also defined.
3. Component design: Each system components and their operations were designed.
4. Database design: The system data structures and how they were to be presented in the database were designed. Information design was also determined to ensure proper organization and storage of data in the database.
The design activities carried out were as outlined in Figure 2.

Figure 2 An outline of the design process

Implementation Process
After the design process the work was divided in units and the system components were then developed. Database creation and management
Database was created using XAMPP. Under the localhost/PhpMyadmin upon running the XAMPP, a database named “kenyatea” was created using the system on the text field labeled ‘create new database’. The database was then automatically created using the MySQL.
The database management was done using Joomla! 3.2 which was also used to create and manage the contents of the portal. It was installed on a local server to allow creating and testing the site on the computer prior to deploying it on a live server. This was to avoid moving files back and forth from a remote web server when making changes to the site, making the development efforts easy. Web page development
HTML tags were used as the basic building-blocks of the web pages that described how the web pages were displayed by the web browser. The PHP was responsible in creation of the dynamic web page content of the portal. The template’s HTML was edited using the Adobe Dreamweaver CS6. This package was used as a development environment in setting functionalities of the page such as the page layout.
XAMPP was used in development of the system which enabled running of the programs on the web browser without access to the internet because it is unified software package that bundles the entire necessary server environment. Creating navigation schemes
The principal navigation links on the pages were created which describes how pages are related and what navigation paths are offered to users. The front page was designed to have key menu items for ease of access to the intended information by users. These menu items include; Home, Stakeholders, Marketing, Production, Shop, Research, and the Contact menu. Some of the technical considerations also put in place were the page size and the number of menu items to be developed on a page, in order to provide optimum performance. A search section was also created to enable users to browse and access the required information. Security requirements
Security of the portal was ensured through provision of user authorization and authentication, and by ensuring proper control of the admin section. The following security requirements were applied: assigning of users to a specific role, provision of confidential access of the users to the information, application of firewall to provide secure data storage and transfer and implementing encryption to secure data transfer and authentication.
3.2.4 Integration and System testing
System testing was done to ensure that the system worked as expected and that the set requirements were met. The testing activities were as shown in Table 1.

Table 1 System testing activities

3.3 Data collection and analysis

3.3.1 Research design
Prior to development of the web portal a qualitative research method was used to obtain information that would give a deeper understanding of the tea industry in Kenya and to define the requirements of the intended portal. The issues under study were; to generally understand the tea industry in Kenya, identifying challenges in information flow and marketing, evaluating the available tea resource platforms and to define the nature of the intended portal. The following key institutions in the tea industry were used as sources for the required information;
KTDA, NYAYO TEA ZONES and TBK. These institutions play crucial roles in the tea industry and therefore informants from these institutions were appropriate to answer the specific questions under investigation.
A semi-structured interview was used as the mean for data collection. This is a qualitative data collection technique that generates words, rather than numbers, as data for analysis (Wilkinson and Birngham 2003). By conducting the semi-structured interview, there was flexibility to vary the context and content of the interview. The method also enabled the respondents to give in-depth details relevant to the scope of the research rather than responding to closed questions. This enabled probing for more information and clarification of answers giving deeper understanding and insight.
Judgment sampling technique was used to select informants. This sampling technique was used because it enabled reflection of some knowledge of the topic enabling selection of only individuals who had good understanding of the issues to be explored. At least two informants from each of the listed institutions whose opinions were important to the research were selected.
3.4 Data analysis and presentation
The data collected were notes that were taken during the interviews. From these notes the original comment and observations were reconstructed. The data analysis was then done in the following 3 steps;
1. Derivation of issues from the raw data: As the raw data contained detailed explanations, the data was summarized and reformulated by deriving issues from the raw data.
2. Grouping the issues: The issues were grouped based on their relation to each other.
3. Issue summary: The issues were summarized in the form of short statements. For instance the issues on the nature of the system and the services to be offered were categorized into functional requirements and non-functional requirements and the respective requirements clearly identified.
4 Results and Discussion
4.1 Interview results
The interviews conducted yielded the following results;
i. The result of the interview on the issue of information flow in the tea industry was consistent with that of the literature review; that the information flow was poor and there was need to improve it. From the entire respondents it was evident that development of a web portal for the Kenyan tea would be able to address most of the stated challenges.
ii. From the informants responses, the key areas of great importance which were developed as main menu items of the portal were identified as Tea production, Tea marketing, Tea research, Tea Buying and Selling.
On the issue of requirement analysis of the system the identified system requirements were as shown in Table 2.

Table 2 The functional and non-functional requirements

4.2 The developed system components
4.2.1 Template files structure
The template file structure of the system is as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 Template files structure

The key files in this template file include: Index.php, Template. css, Template_thumbnail.png, and Template Details.xml. These template files contain all the necessary elements for the functionalities of the portal. They control the general appearance of the site and are the container for all the output on the page via the template’s CSS files.
4.2.2 MySQL for the web portal
The following MySQL codes were created to be used as the relational database management system (RDBMS) for database of the portal. This contains the entire necessary query that is executed by the system.
MySQL codes:

4.2.3 The database structure of the portal
The created database containsall the information of the portal including texts, images, username and passwords.
The database structure of the portal is as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Mysql database structure

4.3 The system architecture
The developed system architecture followed the 3-tier architecture. The general architecture of the developed system is as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 The client server architecture

The component structure is as discussed in Table 3.

Table 3 The system architecture/structure

4.4 The Home page/User interface
This is the target for output and the place where the visitors access the site’s content and functionality. The front-end contains menu items, search box and the social place. The user interface contains the home page which is the page that is displayed when user visits the site. The Home page/landing page is as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6 Home page/landing page

Visitors to the site are able to see and use the front-end content and functionality with any of a wide range of browsers, both current and older editions.
4.4.1 Menu items
Menu items were created to provide principal navigation links on the pages of the portal. These menu items include; Home, Stakeholders, Marketing, Production, Research, Shop, Login and Contacts. The menu items appear in two parts of the page; one is at the top of the page and the second is at the left side of the page situated vertical which have the same content but with one more item featuring beneath it which is ‘Other related links’.
The information is organized and categorized into the different menu items so as to suit different users of the portal for ease of access and retrieval of the information. The ‘Stakeholders’ menu contains: Manufactures, Regulators and Licensing, Tea Traders, Tea Warehouses and Registration management agency. The ‘Marketing’ menu item displays the following: Type of Tea, Tea Brands and Tea Facts. The “Production” menu item displays; Tea growing regions, Tea Production requirements, Tea varieties, large scale sub-sector, smallholder sub-sector and Registrations. And the ‘Research’ menu item displays; Ongoing research, Research collaborations, Publications and Related articles.
4.4.2 The search box
All the information stored in the database can be accessed and retrieved using the search box. This search box functions in such a way that as the user type, it searches and displays results immediately in a pop-up window.
4.4.3 Interaction/ social places
The created social place offers site users a full range of social networking tools and activities, thereby greatly enhancing the interactivity and stickiness of the site.
4.5 The Back-End /Admin Interface
The back end is the administration interface where the majority of the site management activities occur. Access to the admin system is controlled by a login form and is restricted to only those users who are assigned to user groups higher than publishers.
5 Conclusion and Recommendations
Interest in portals has been developing in the recent years and many institutions are now benefiting from them. Some of the benefits of web portals are; reduced costs of information access and retrieval due to centralized access point, capabilities to share information among users, high performance due to consistent navigation, among other benefits.
The development of the web portal for Kenyan tea was important not only to provide a resource platform for the tea, but also to create opportunities for application of other innovative technologies to the tea industry.
The functional requirements of the portal defined in this document can be extended with new functional requirements and other extension utilities. System maintenance and upgrading will be done continuously, and feedback and views from users will be used in improving the system.
This paper recommends the use of this system not only to provide a resource platform for the tea, but also to create opportunities for application of other innovative technologies to the tea industry.
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