Dairy farming is a complicated and challenging business, particularly for small farmers. It requires knowledge and expertise in disciplines ranging from livestock management to animal health. In rural Kenya, access to information about methods and services can help to make farm businesses more productive. A new mobile phone application is making a difference.
Kenya’s dairy industry is dominated by smallholder famers, who account for seventy-five per cent of total output. They need access to education and information that enables them to manage and look after their cattle more efficiently. A new mobile phone application, which has been designed to run on low-end phones, is helping them to achieve better yields.
The application, ‘iCow’, is an SMS based information and education platform, which has been developed by Kenyan company Green Dreams Ltd. It aims to help smallholder farmers to increase their productivity by improving their access to important information. Easy to use and available in English and Kiswahili, iCow has three main features and more are being developed: ‘Mashauri’ provides education and advice, sending regular ‘tips’ to farmers on animal husbandry and management; ‘Kalenda’ is a calendar, which can be customised to individual cows, calves and heifers, helping with the management of oestrus cycles and gestation periods; and ‘Vetenari’ provides access to a database of registered vets and support services.
iCow effectively acts as a virtual veterinary nurse, midwife and farm business consultant, giving advice on gestation, milk production, animal health and nutrition. Once they have registered for the service, which is supported by a customer care centre established with the help of a grant from the Indigo Trust, farmers input key data about individual cows, such as insemination and expected calving dates, and then receive tailored information about caring for each animal.
iCow is already leading to healthier calves and lower cow mortality rates in Kenya. Its innovative quality was recognised when it was awarded first prize in a recent ‘Apps for Africa’ competition.