Data-driven management for dairy farmers in Kenya
This blog is a submission to the Community of Practice on Data-Driven Agronomy’s blog competition on digital extension—an opportunity for those working in the digital extension in agriculture field to share their experiences with their technologies, business models, key challenges, and major bottlenecks, as well as how they solved such challenges, when creating and implementing innovative solutions.
The Kenyan smallholder dairy farmer is faced with the challenge of low milk production, averaging just ten litres per cow per day against a potential of 30 liters per cow per day. This production gap can be attributed to lack of access to verified agricultural information (the ratio of extension officers to farmers in Kenya is 1 to 3,500) lack of qualified veterinary services, and lack of data-driven management.
We developed DigiCow, a mobile app for dairy farmers which enables data-driven management. It offers 24-hour access to verified information through a digital training room where we upload audio and written trainings.
The app also offers an online chat room that encourages peer-to-peer consultation and one-on-one expert consultancy where extension service providers sit in our app as experts who can be accessed easily for up to 12 hours a day.
The app enables us digitize some aspects of dairy management for farmers with basic phones such as:
- Training. We combine SMS and voice calls to train hundreds of farmers at a once. The system allows for customization of content into various local languages. Through the use of a pre-selected database, the system sends out an alert SMS prompting the farmer to be ready for the call at a certain time. The system then broadcasts voice calls to the same farmers, right after the call. A summary SMS is delivered for reference and a call to action. The platform has a success rate of up to 80%.
- Veterinary services. We have combined the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to request qualified vet and affordable ‘medical cover’ for cows. We have minimized the time taken to access vet services from 24 hours to just under an hour and allows for all farmers to have digital health records.
- Breeding management. Farmers can access an inseminator through dialing a USSD code and also access digital records on breeding. They can also receive timely alerts and SMSes throughout the gestation period. This reduces the calving interval which in turn improves milk production.
We combine both freemium and subscription models. The farmer gets most of our services at no charge while we get paid by corporations, the government, and organizations interested in training farmers through our platforms. The farmer pays a monthly subscription fee to act as the medical cover for veterinary services.
We have an innovative edge in comparison to our competitors because we have combined the use of mobile apps, USSD, SMS, and voice call to offer extension services. This ensures that no farmer, regardless of age, level of education, technological expertise, etc., is left behind.
Our dairy app also has an offline mode where farmers are able to keep records even in the absence of network connectivity. We provide backend analytics to different players in the dairy value chain, for example national governments, to help them create trainings and offer extension services that are relevant and timely.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced? How did you overcome them?
Over 70% of smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya are above 60 years old. The adoption rate of smartphones among these farmers is as low as 40%.
We began by developing an app for dairy farmers, but we were quickly met by the challenge of low smartphone penetration, an aging farmer population, and low internet connectivity in some areas. To counter these challenges, we innovated further to digitize extension delivery for farmers with basic phones through voice calls, SMSes, and USSD.
Because we are a technology company, we lack expertise in some areas of dairy management. We do not have the capacity to research and run veterinary operations, so we work with implementing partners who help us deliver actual extension services to the farmers. For example, we partner with Rapid Veterinary Services Ltd, a vet company that leverages our technology to reach a bigger network of farmers and offer effective and efficient services, and the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization which allows us access to their research materials which we convert to audios and simplify for the farmers consumption.
Initially, farmers struggled to use our platforms because it is a relatively new concept in Kenya. We work with government partners, dairy cooperatives, and farmer champions to intensively sensitize farmers on our digital solutions—how to use them and benefit the farmer.
We have also enabled service providers such as vets and inseminators to input digital health and breeding records on behalf of the farmers.
We still have a challenge in accessing financial assistance that would allow us to scale our business, improve our solutions, and build capacity among our employees.
In your opinion, what is the main opportunity for digital extension services? What recommendations would you make in order to realize this opportunity?
Digital extension services will bridge the gap between farmers and the extension service providers. It will allow farmers to access, in an efficient and effective way, extension services which will translate to improved production.
In order to realize this opportunity, we will need to intensify, sensitize, and work with farmers.
Additionally, it is important for other agricultural stakeholders to leverage existing solutions, such as our app, to avoid duplication of effort.
When all is said and done, we do it for the farmer!
Photo: Brigitte Maass / CIAT. Farmer feeding her dairy goats with Brachiaria cv. Mulato II mixed with the legume originating from the push-pull-system in Migori, western Kenya, August 2013.
January 20, 2020
Shareholder / Head of Partnerships
Farmingtech Solutions Ltd