A dairy cow on one of Kenya’s many smallholder farms consumes maize stover, an important supplementary feed in East Africa (photo credit: ILRI).
Apropos the recently concluded AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair, held at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which highlighted local innovations and how to share them, is this report from the BBC earlier this month of an application that tracks the fertility of cows. Called ‘iCow’, it won the first ever Apps 4 Africa competition to find new talent as mobile phones become increasingly popular in Africa.
‘Offering a prize fund of $5,000, the competition asked developers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania to come up with a mobile application that is widely accessible, easy to use and simple.
‘The competition, funded by the United States Government, hoped to unite the brightest African developers with people who could benefit most from innovate mobile technology.
‘Launched back in July in Nairobi, the competition attracted 20 entrants—each offering a unique approach to improving life in the region.
‘The winner, announced this week, was iCow—an application that helps cow farmers maximise breeding potential by tracking the fertility cycle of their animals. . . .’
Read the whole news article at BBC: Cow farming program wins Apps 4 Africa competition, 8 October 2010.
The woman behind iCow is Su Kahumbu-Stephanou, a TED Global Fellow 2010 who founded Green Dreams, an organic farm in Tigoni, outside Nairobi, Kenya, ten years ago. Green Dreams helps Kenyan farmers to get organic certification and to get better connected to local markets.
Kahumbu-Stephanou says that Kenya’s small-scale farmers cannot afford to follow industrialized livestock production practices. She told iHub: ‘What they have is access to land, farmyard manure and manpower. What they’re missing is the know-how to create a productive farm. The biggest aspect that is missing in this sector is information. iCow is a voice-based mobile application that will help farmers track the oestrus stages of their cows helping them to manage their breeding as well as cow nutrition leading up to the calving day. Farmers will update the system with definite known dates within the cow calender and the system will send call back voice and sms alerts to the farmer during the year assisting them to make informed decisions.’
Read the whole iHub profile: Meet the lady behind the iCow idea!, 12 October 2010.
On her blog, Kahumbu-Stephanou explains the need for the iCow phone app.
‘Cows have a very short receptive period within their estrus cycle, only 11–12hrs, and will come on heat every 17–25 days until impregnated. . . . A farmer needs to know when the 11–12 hr window occurs. . . . [But] few farmers keep records. . . . Most small scale farmers have 1-3 cattle and do not use [artificial insemination] for a variety of reasons. . . . All cow owners need to track the fertility cycle of their cows. . . . Most rural farmers have mobile phones or access to mobile phones. iCow is a tool that will help farmers track their cow cycles through their mobile phone. . . . iCow is a simple voice-based mobile application [that will send] a series of voice prompts and sms messages . . . to the farmer at intervals throughout the year, relevant to each specific cow at that particular time of it’s cycle. These prompts will not only be reminders, but also educational. In some instances the prompts will be followed up with an sms delivering important information e.g. vet phone number.’
Get many more details about the iCow phone app and how it is helping small-scale Kenyan farmers on the Green Dreams Organic Farming in East Africa blog: iCow, 27 October 2010.