Young technology entrepreneurs led by Sue Kahumbu and Charles Kithika have developed a pioneering voice-based mobile phone application called “iCow” that helps farmers to manage the breeding cycles of their dairy cows.The application handles dairy cow nutrition up to calving day, using prompts by the mobile phones now widespread in Kenya, even used by illiterate farmers. The pilot project won the “Apps4Africa” contest organised by the U.S. State Department and three African partner organisations.
By Reuben Kyama
For the first time, Kenyan farmers will have a portable, affordable and user friendly software application to manage their cattle. An innovative voice-based mobile application tool enables farmers and ranchers to track the oestrus stages of their dairy cows.
The new iCow technology platform will replace obsolete and occasionally dysfunctional tools previously used in Kenyan animal husbandry.
iCow was founded by Sue Kahumbu and Charles Kithika who told eLearning Africa that the programme was initiated in September 2010, “to give farmers access to updated data on their cow’s gestation period and other dynamics related to health and nutrition.”
Call the “daily cow midwife”
Charles Kithika explained that iCow utilises voice-based software application in mobile phones to enable the farmers make automated calls. For example, they can ask the app when their cow is due to give birth, or how to indentify the symptoms of mastitis.
“Any mobile handset, whether low end or high end, can be used to access this application. You don’t have to have a special smart-phone. The app has minimal cost implications to farmers, since prices are at fixed rate.” Kithika says that plans are underway to develop the software for different platforms.
Sue Kahumbu says the overriding objective behind the development of iCow was to offer farmers an information service. “It is a mobile application for small scale farmers to help educate them on better management of their herd.”
iCow works like a daily midwife, dealing with fertility and helping farmers keep records of their cows and achieve optimum nutrition.
Kahumbu says, “The feedback from farmers is very positive; they are even telling us to add more information on the gadget.”
Plans are afoot for a strategic partnership with Kenya’s leading mobile telephone provider, Safaricom, for a national rollout. The application will be available in English, Swahili and numerous local ethnic languages, such as Kikuyu, Kamba and Luhya.
“Sustainable animal husbandry to boost the Kenyan economy”
Kenyan Livestock Development ministry officials expect the new application to set a precedent in sustainable animal husbandry, boosting economic growth and helping Kenya to achieve an ambitious target of reaching middle income status by 2030.
The iCow software took top prize in a competition launched by the U.S. State Department and its African partner organisations; iHub, Appfrica Labs and Social Development Network. The Apps4Africa competition, launched in July 2010, encouraged local technology entrepreneurs to build tools for local communities and generated more than 20 entries from East Africa.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a video message to the winners: “Your work to develop 21st century solutions to Africa’s challenges is a powerful example of what individuals can do to shape a dynamic, successful future.”
For more information on the “Apps4Africa” initiative, click here: