Mobile Technology Unlocks Dairy Farming Potential in Kenya

On a typical day, Susan Wanjiru checks and replies to her emails, updates and checks off items on her appointment book before she starts work at a busy Nairobi hotel.

The young hotelier also receives a text message informing her of the progress of her small dairy farm in Kinangop. The message has come through an iCow application that is promising to change the way small holder farmers in Kenya manage their dairy cattle.

The iCow is a voice-based WAP enabled application that keeps farmers abreast of essential animal breeding and feeding methods through technology. A farmer can register his cows free of charge through the iCow portal and gets regular SMSs about the breeding and production patterns of the livestock.

Feeding patterns

Details of elements like the estrus cycle, feeding patterns, prevalent diseases, milking calendar and calf management practices that are essential for dairy cattle rearing are relayed through the system.

The SMSs cost Sh5 each and come at varying intervals during the day depending on the unique needs of the animals.

iCow was developed by a Kenyan, Charles Kithika, and was entered into an Apps competition for Africa which saw Mr Kithika win a cash prize of $5,000 and an Apple iPad.

“Through iCow I can keep track of the individual needs of each cow such as quantity of feed needed and medication if any and relay the information to someone on the ground,” says Ms Wanjiru.

“Although the farm is in Kinangop and my job in Nairobi mostly confines me there, I can manage the farm as if am on site through regular SMS updates.”

Ms Wanjiru , who has registered her three Friesian cows on the iCow portal gets daily texts about the animals’ nutritional needs and milking patterns which she then forwards to a farm hand in Kinangop for action.

“Before I switched on iCow I had little information about dairy farming. It is especially difficult to research on things like diseases and feeds for the calves if you have to hold your day job,” said Ms Wanjiru.

She is just one of the many small holder farmers mostly from Nakuru and Kiambu who have registered for the service.

A product of Green Dreams Tech Ltd, the iCow is aimed at creating a simple digital solution for dairy farmers looking at improving the way they manage their livestock.

According to Su Kahumbu, the creative director of Green Dreams, iCow’s main objective is to assist small scale farmers to maximise returns from their small herds through technology.

“We found out that most dairy farmers do not get the most out of their livestock because they depend on rudimentary livestock management methods.”

Kenya has in the last two years witnessed an emerging crop of young talented techpreneurs whose innovative applications have raised the country’s profile as the mobile application capital of Africa.

A recent report titled: Mobile Life 2011, mobile phone literacy in Kenya indicated a sharp rise in mobile phone use buoyed by affordable handsets and reduced tariffs. This has seen the use of the gadget surpass personal computers as the primary medium of internet access. The government through the Ministry of Information, the ICT Board and the private sector has equally been vocal in challenging application developers to create software solutions that can meet the needs of the local market.

Local developers

Innovations like the iCow that boost small scale farmers have been hailed as examples of how local developers can respond to market demands and make money by providing practical solutions.

For Naomi Wambui, a small holder dairy farmer in Kieni, Nyeri County, iCow has gone a long way in helping her manage her four dairy cows.

“I registered the cows in June and since then I the service has boosted the productivity of my small herd”, she said. “I get an average of two messages a day with instructions on what kind of feeds to use, what to give the calves when they are bloating and details about their breeding cycles.”

According to Ms Wambui, the application has enabled her raise her output by up to 50 per cent. “In the past I used to get about one and a half to two litres per day from each cow but nowadays I get about three litres from each animal,” she said.

For Su Kahumbu and her team at Green Dreams, the next focus is to scale up the penetration and adoption of iCow by increasing the functionality of the application.

“We launched iCow on June 3 and j the response from the farmers is fantastic just two months later,” says Ms Kahumbu.

“iCow was lately been mentioned in Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s best apps.” “We have further developed iCow Soko which enables farmers sell and buy livestock over the iCow platform”, she said.