iCow impacting on food security
By Giles Lewis
On Friday the 25th of July I was lucky enough to pay a visit to Su Kahumbu, creator of iCow and her team at their offices in Nairobi to learn more about their mobile application and its effect on small-scale farmers in Kenya. My visit to iCow was part of a series of trips to various mobile application developers and companies who were involved in delivering mobile agricultural extension services to pre-dominantly small-scale farmers in Kenya.
I have just finished my second year at University College London studying Geography and as part of my third year dissertation I chose to research the use of mobile phones for agricultural extension services and their affect on the livelihoods and development of Kenyan farmers. Coming from a farming background and a keen interest in technology I was intrigued to find out more about how farmers in developing countries such as Kenya are using technology to improve their productivity and quality of life. Before visiting Kenya I had read a lot in both the press and academic literature about Kenya as an exciting hub for technology and in particular mobile technology, some referring to Kenya as ‘Silicon Savannah’!
The key source of data for my research was the farmer and Su kindly agreed that I could work with some of her team for a day interviewing iCow customers over the phone to find out what impacts iCow was having on their lives. The first lady who we contacted had previously emailed iCow to thank them for helping her with her cows. Through using iCow and its milk production tips the lady had increased her milk yield from just over 10 litres per cow to around 18 litres, the equivalent of an additional cow’s share of milk (without the huge cost of buying and feeding an additional cow!). With the extra income from a higher milk production she was building a new house and paying for someone to help her with her cows. The whole day was filled with great stories from farmers such as those who had paid off substantial debts, paid for their children’s school fees and even started a savings account. One farmer said that through using iCow they now had sufficient food for their family which really highlighted to us all the impact that a simple service like iCow can have on people.
Su also showed me the iCow smart tips service where farmers can find a whole range of information about both arable and livestock farming. A farmer can self diagnose a problem with their crops or livestock by checking against pest and disease information and make the necessary interventions to avoid losses. Through a simple menu system they can also get the number of a vet should they require attention. It was like the Wikipedia of agriculture and the simplicity of its functionality appears to be very successful in the field. I was also told about a new project to bring a market system to iCow whereby individuals can buy and sell all kinds of agricultural goods using the proven simplicity of a menu system via SMS. It will be extremely interesting to see how this is used by farmers as it has huge potential to revolutionise the way Kenyan farmers market their produce and could add a completely new dimension to the way iCow benefits the farmer.
Since my visit to iCow I have been recommending it to everyone I meet as so many people in Kenya have connections with agriculture. The taxi driver on the way home was telling me about how some of his chickens were looking sick and I immediately told him to check out *285# to see if he could find out what was wrong!
My thanks go to Su, Beth and Wini for their hard work manning the phone and recording information!
"The greatest and only justification for what we do is in the success stories of iCow farmers"
This morning we spoke to Farmer Thuo who started using iCow on June 9th 2011 during the launch of our prototype at the Brookside Breeders Show in Nairobi. He has thus been on the platform for 2 yrs 8 months. His story is amazing! His only livestock are his 4 cows and 4 calves. Since joining iCow and implementing his new knowledge he says he looks at farming more serioiusly than before and has seen big changes in his yields as well as his animal health. One cow now produces 31 lts of milk compared to before when she produced only 15 lts at maximum production. Wow wow wow!!!
His passion in farming has grown he says due to iCow. (blush blush) He has learned many things including fodder production, hygiene and loads about diseases helping him manage the challenges of feed shortage and mastitis he faced in the past. He is also keeping close records on his farming activities now and sells his milk to brokers in the area and receives KES 45.00 per litre.
In the future Farmer Thuo intends on ear tagging his cows and taking up pig farming and looks forward to when we will include pig content on the iCow platform. When commenting on the health of his animals before and after using iCow he said "There is no comparison, today they are much healthier!"
We are humbled and ecstatic!
High Five moment in the iCow office!
In the pic.....Mike (Tech), Beth (Customer Care) Su (Dreamer) Eve (Content)...Mr Thuo has promised to provide us with photos which we will upload asap.
iCow Testimonials Jan 27th and 28th 2014
Anthony is from Kisii He couldn't remember where he heard about iCow but he registered because he wanted to learn more about best practices of rearing a cow. He has 2 cows and he registered on Mashauri Cow. He said that he hasn't started implementing iCow teachings and that the only challenge he faces is low milk yields. I advised him to be practicing what he learns from iCow and he will start seeing the difference. I also gave him the examples of what iCow farmers who implement the prompts some of the benefits they have seen and he said that he will start implementing. He didn't know Kalenda but he was interested and said that he will register his cows.
Onkoba is from Kisii He heard about iCow on Egesa Fm and registered because he has a cow and he needed information to help him improve his farming methods. He has 1 cow. He has learnt how to feed his cow, harvesting napier, and about disease prevention. He said that he is able to implement 2 prompts every week and that his cow looks good and has increased milk production. Before she used to produce 3Ltrs and now she is producing 5Ltrs. He said that he has reduced disease because he sprays his cow regularly hence reducing ticks. The major challenges he faces are lack of finance and ECF disease. I told him about the ECF vaccine and I told him that I am going to send him the contacts of ECF distributors and he can talk to them. He knew about Kalenda and he said that he will think about it registering.
Eliud is from Nandi He heard about iCow through Safaricom SMS and registered on Mashauri Cow and Mashauri Kienyeji because he is a farmer. He has learnt about management of cows and chickens and now knows how to make his own concentrates hence reducing cost. He implements all of the information that he receives. His 4 cows have increased milk production from 10Litres to 15 litres. He has 5 Kienyeji chickens. The challenges that he faces are diseases e.g. ECF and Foot and mouth and also lack of feeds. He would like to get info on growing of crops like maize. He had received an SMS about Kalenda but he hadn't understood it. I explained to him and he said that he will try to register his cows. I told him about ECF Vaccine and he requested me to send him the contacts of the ECF distributors.
John Elgeyo Marakwet heard about iCow on Kass Fm and registered on Mashauri Cow because he has a passion for dairy farming. He has 3 cows. He has learnt how to harvest his napier because before he joined iCow he used to wait for napier to overgrow and he has also learnt how to prevent mastitis. His cows look healthy and he implements 2 prompts every week. The challenges he faces are feed shortages, high feed prices and of low feed quality. He knew about Kalenda.
Langat is from Bomet He heard about iCow on a Television but he can't remember which station. He registered on Mashauri cow because he is a dairy farmer. He has learnt about different nutrients that his cows are supposed to get, how to store feeds, disease prevention e.g. bloat and also housing hygiene. He implements all of the prompts. He has 5 cows and he has increased his milk yield from 7ltrs to 10 ltrs. He would like information about high yielding cows, milk markets and also he would like to be connected directly with the feed manufacturers. He didn't know about Kalenda but I told him.
Jan 28th 2014
Bernard is from Kericho. He learnt about iCow through Safaricom SMS and registered on Mashauri Cow because he wanted to learn. He has 4 cows and he milks 3 cows. He said that his cows have increased milk production because they used to produce 3Ltrs each but now they have increase 1 litre each. He said that he has learnt so many things. He also has 4 Kienyeji chickens. The only challenge he encounters is milk fever disease but he is now ensuring hygiene is observed by those who are milking his cows. He knew about Kalenda. He said that he only needs info on cows.
Wanjohi from Nyeri learnt about iCow through Safaricom SMS and registered on Mashauri cow because he needed info on cows. He manages to implement 1 or 2 prompts per week and he has been learnt about diseases, growing fodder trees for his cows and also spaying his cows in order to control tick diseases. He said he is doing things differently because he sprays his cows more often and also de-worms them every 3 months. He has 2 cows but only 1 is being milked and she has increased milk yield by 1 litre. She used to produce 6 Ltrs is now producing 7 litres per day. He has 10 Kienyeji chickens. He had faced a challenge of lacking knowledge in farming but he is now seeing a difference. He would also like info about Kienyeji chickens and I told him on how to subscribe to Kienyeji Mashauri. I also told him about Kalenda.
Nicholas of Kericho came to know iCow through Safaricom SMS and joined Mashauri Cow because he is a dairy farmer. He has 1 cow and he has learnt about feeding his cow with different nutrients, Disease prevention e.g. mastitis and also vaccinations. He is doing things differently because before he joined iCow his cow could stay a month without being sprayed but now he sprays every Saturday. He also used to vaccinate his cow when the Govt made notices but now he doesn't wait for that. He said that iCow has helped him because his cow took 9 months without going on heat but when he started feeding her well she took 2 months and she was served. He is satisfied with cow information. The major problem is distant vets and I told him on how to be finding his nearest vet using iCow.
Phillip from Uasin Gishu learnt about iCow through Kass Fm and subscribed because he wanted to gain more knowledge on rearing of Kienyeji chickens. He has 4 cows and 20 Kienyeji chickens. He has learnt about Diseases e.g. New castle and also how to handle eggs for brooding. He is okay with the Kienyeji chicken info. The only challenge he faces is New castle disease. He said that before he wasn't doing vaccinations but he is now trying to vaccinate. He knew about Kalenda.
Kanyutu is from Muranga. He read about iCow through Safaricom SMS and registered because he is a dairy farmer. He has 1 cow and 20 chickens (10 chickens+10 chicks). He says he has gained knowledge on disease control e.g. mastitis, handling chicks in the brooder and also feeding his cows and chickens. He said that he is doing things differently because he is strictly observing hygiene by cleaning cowsheds everyday and also hygiene when milking his cow. He also said that he is now allowing his chickens to roam outside so that they can get the nutrients that they might have missed on their feeds. He would like info on growing of vegetables e.g. cabbages and tomatoes. The only challenge he had faced in the past was coccidiosis disease. He has subscribed to 3 features Mashauri Cow, Mashauri Kienyeji and on Mashauri Broiler. He had an idea of Kalenda but asked a few questions and said that he will register his chickens and cow on Kalenda.
iCow Farmer Testimonials Week Jan 19th-24th 2014
Jan 19th 2014
As part quality assurance and part curiosity and passion, we are implementing a new system in Customer Care where we call 5-10 farmers every day. We are curious to know the following:
1.Are our farmers satisfied with our service
2.Are they implementing the teachings
3.What impact has iCow had on each farmer as well as his livestock
4.What suggestions do farmers have for improvement or new products
5.How they learnt about iCow
Below are some of the conversations:
This morning we were calling farmers who had registered for Mashauri Kienyeji (Indigenous Chicken Farmer Tips) when we launched this new feature on the iCow platform in October 2013. They have been on the platform for 3.5 months
Farmer Paul Proud NEW owner of 15 Kienyeji Chickens
'I have now purchased 15 Kienyeji chickens after being on iCow Mashauri Kienyeji since October 2013, I depend on iCow information for rearing my Cows and Chickens. “
Farmer Rotich from Trans Mara Owner of 10 Kienyeji Chickens
‘I joined iCow because I needed information about chickens. I have learnt about observing hygiene when rearing chickens, better housing and also feeding.’ ‘ ..... I have managed to implement some of the information and am managing my chickens differently than before.’
Farmer Lily Owner 30 Kienyeji Chickens
‘I joined iCow so that I can make improvements on managing my livestock. I learnt about iCow through media although I can't remember which TV station. I have managed to implement some of the information that I have learnt from iCow. I have gained knowledge in feeding and vaccinations. I didn't even know that Kienyeji chickens are supposed to be vaccinated but now am planning to begin vaccinating them. I would like more info on making concentrates. Most of the challenges that I faced in the past were lack of information and also poor management but now I have gained a lot and am able to run my farm properly. ...........I will register my chickens on iCow Kienyeji Kalenda.
Farmer Anthony from Githunguri Owner NEW 20 Kienyeji Chickens
‘I joined iCow to learn how to manage Kienyeji Chickens and through the information I have received I have now bought 20 Kienyeji Chickens. I learned about iCow through Inooro Fm’
iCow farmer voices January 20th 2014
Today we were calling farmers who had been on the platform for 5 months.
Gicharu in Lamu found out about iCow on a poster, but cannot remember where he saw it. He says he is implementing the information he is receiving and knows much about diseases and feeding now. He also keeps 100 Layer chickens and says he is going to register the flock on Kalenda Layer in order to keep up-to-date on the vaccination requirements. He said he was trying to solve the problems he encountered in farming which included low milk yields and chicken diseases
Jane is from Kitale. Her 17yr old son signed her up for iCow five months ago. He is in form two and heard about iCow through @Shujazz magazine. She says she does not have cows but says she is preparing to get a cow soon and feels knowledgeable due to iCow. She did not know that iCow had information on chickens too and had recently lost 8 of her 10 Kienyeji chickens due to diarrhea and running nose. She said she will register for the chicken features on the platform to avoid the same happening again.
Paul from Nyeri has been on iCow for 5 months. He learned about the service from Radio and joined as he wanted more info on dairy. He has two cows. He says he has learnt about Hygiene, Feeding and Diseases and has increased his overall milk yield from 8-10 to 16 lts between his two animals.
Jan 21st 2014
Today’s farmers were selected as they were using multiple features on the iCow platform.
A friend told 19 yr Young Farmer Susan C from Narok about iCow. She has registered on Mashauri Kienyeji and Mashauri Cow. She registered because she has a passion in farming. She has 1 cow and 1 goat and 15 Kienyeji chickens. She completed her "O" Level last year and is waiting for her results. iCow has taught her about different diseases e.g. New castle and typhoid, milking hygiene and milk fever. The challenges that she has been facing are diseases as her cow has had pneumonia and also watery eyes. She knew about Kalenda because she received a prompt from iCow informing her of the new product although she hasn't subscribed her flock yet but plans to.
Esther from Uasin Gishu read about iCow through Safaricom sms and joined because she has cows and chickens and needed info on management of dairy cows and Kienyeji chickens. She has 3 cows and 5 Kienyeji chickens. She has learnt about disease prevention, feeding and also housing and she is implementing whatever she is learning. She doesn't need any other info because she would like to concentrate on both cows and Kienyeji only.
The challenges that she has been facing are Feed shortages, Disease-coccidiosis in chickens and ECF in cows. I told her about ECF vaccine and I told her I will send her an sms with contacts of ECF distributors and she can talk to them.
Joseph is from Kisii. He learnt about iCow on Egesa Fm and joined because he needs knowledge on rearing his cows and chickens. He has learnt about diseases on both chickens and cows and he is implementing his new knowledge. He has 40 Kienyeji chickens and 3 cows. He said he would like info on broilers because he is constructing broiler housing. I told him we already have what he needs, all he has to do is to dial our code and look for Mashauri Broiler.
He said that the challenges he has been facing are feed shortages and lack of knowledge on how to manage his livestock. He knew about Kalenda because he had received an sms from Safaricom few weeks ago
Robert is from Muranga. He read about iCow in the Daily Nation Newspaper and joined because he is a serious dairy farmer. He has 3 cows and 20 Kienyeji chickens. He has been trying to implement the information although not everything and he has learnt a lot on prevention of diseases and making his own concentrates. The challenges that he had faced in the past were diseases e.g. milk fever and mastitis but since he joined iCow he has solved these. He still has issues with lack of skilled labor and feed shortages.
He didn't know about kalenda so I updated him. He has registered himself on Mashauri Kienyeji and Mashauri Cow.
Jan 22nd 2014 Wednesday
Betty is from Uasin Gishu
She learned about iCow through Safaricom Sms and registered on Mashauri cow, Gestation Kalenda and also on Mashauri Kienyeji features. She had just bought dairy cows and didn't have any knowledge on rearing them. She has learnt how to feed her cows, planting of different fodder trees, spraying and changing the medicines to prevent tick resistance.
She has 3 cows and 35 Kienyeji chickens. She said that her cows look good and in good health compared to how they looked when she bought them. The challenges that she is facing now are feed shortages during this season because she does not know how to preserve feeds. She knows about Kalenda.
Ndungu from Nayandaru read about iCow through Safaricom sms and registered on Mashauri Kienyeji and on Mashauri Cow features because he is a farmer. He implements the information that we give and some of the things that he has learnt are how to grow different fodder feeds and prevention of mastitis. This was a very common disease for the past few years. He has 4 cows+3 calves. He is doing things differently since he joined iCow because he knows how to preserve fodder for use during dry seasons and also tick control that he is doing regularly now. He would like more info on silage making and feed formulation. The challenges that he is facing are feed shortages, milk markets and also hard to find AI providers from his area. I told him about Vetenari feature and I explained the convenient way of finding Ai/Vet providers in his area. He didn't know about Kalenda so I told him how he can register.
Rono in Bomet read about iCow through iCow Sms and registered on Mashauri cow and Mashauri Kienyeji features because he needed information on rearing of animals. He has 2 cows. He has learnt how to grow different feeds. He said his cows look healthy because they are getting different nutrients and he has reduced the cost because he doesn't spend much on feeds. He would like information on dairy goat farming. The challenges that he faces are lack of proper knowledge on management of cows and lack of finance.
Nick from Bomet learnt about iCow on a billboard but he can't remember where in particular. He registered on MK and MC because he wanted to gather more knowledge on farming. He has learnt how to grow fodder, the best time to harvest napier and also factors that influence chicken health. He has 1 cow , 1 heifer and also 10 Kienyeji chickens. He said that he is doing things differently as before he used to feed his cows with fresh napier and they would have diarrhea .Now he cuts the napier and leaves it for 2 days. He said that his cow has increased milk production from 8ltrs to 10 Ltrs. He said that his cows look healthy and he has controlled ticks on them. He would like more info on heifer rearing. ECF disease has been the major challenge but I told him about the ECF vaccine and I told him that I am going to send him the contacts of the ECF distributors and he can call them. I told him about Kalenda and he said that he will try to register his cow.
Job is from Uasin Gishu. He learnt about iCow in the Shujaaz magazine and registered because he needed more information on feeding. He wanted his livestock to increase milk production so as to increase his income. He has learnt how to feed his cows and chickens with different nutrients, disease prevention and better hygiene. He has 3 cows,30 Kienyeji chickens and 20 ducks. He would like to get information on growing of onions and tomatoes. He didn't know about kalenda and I told him and he asked me the registration procedure and he said that he will register his chickens. He is registered on MC, MK and ML Features.
Jan 23 2014
David is from Narok. He came to know about iCow he received an sms from Safaricom. He registered on Mashauri Cow and Mashauri Kienyeji because he is a farmer and he wanted to increase knowledge on farming. He has 12 Kienyeji chickens and 7 cows. He has increased his knowledge on both cows and Kienyeji and this has helped his 1 cow increase milk production from 3Ltrs to 7Ltrs. He only needs cow and Kienyeji chickens info. The challenges that he faces are availability of water and feed shortages. He knew about Kalenda.
Moses is from Kakamega and learned about iCow from the Daily Nation Newspaper. He registered on Mashauri Kienyeji and Mashauri Cow features because he has a passion for farming. He has 4 cows and 100 Kienyeji chickens. He is implementing iCow teachings and has learnt about disease control, preventions and vaccinations. He said that before he joined iCow he used to vaccinate his chickens but not regularly but since he joined iCow he is now doing it regularly. His cows look healthy and they have also increased milk production. Cow 1 used to produce 2 litres and now she is producing 5Ltrs and Cow 2 was producing 5 litres and now she is producing 10Ltrs. The challenges he faced in the past was Foot and Mouth disease where he lost 2 cows but now he is more knowledgeable on the control. He didn't know about Kalenda but when I told him he said that he is going to register his chickens.
Chepkosgei is from Transmara She learned of iCow through a Safaricom Sms and registered because she is a dairy farmer and a poultry farmer. She was looking for a place where she can acquire info on both. She has registered on both Mashauri Kienyeji and Mashauri Cow features. She has 2 cows and 30 Kienyeji chickens and implements iCow teachings.
She has learnt about milk fever disease and how to control ticks. She said her cows looks different because she is paying much attention to feeding. She wants more info on management of dairy cows in order to get best results. She hasn't faced any challenge and I told her about Kalenda and she said that she is going to register her cows on Kalenda.
Paul from Kericho couldn't remember where he learnt about iCow but registered because he wants to increase yields. He is registered on Mashauri Kienyeji and MC features and has 17 Kienyeji chickens and 1 cow. He said he has learnt so many things including prevention of mastitis and nutrition of both Kienyeji chicken and cows. He said that before he joined iCow he used to wait for the napier to grow tall but since when he was told that the napier loses nutritional value when it exceeds 3ft he started harvesting it when its 2-3ft tall. He is now very observant on hygiene. He would like info on best breeds and where to get them. He also told me that we sent him a prompt with XXXXX XXXX contacts and we told him to contact them and they will be taught on how to make chicken feeds but when he called he was told to visit their website and when he tried to open their website it failed to open. He suggested that we be specific and upload that info on iCow website. The most common challenges he is facing are disease but he now knows that he is supposed to vaccinate his chickens. He also has problems with low quality feeds. His cow looks different because it’s health has improved, no more ticks hence reducing diseases and his has increased milk production by 1 litre.
Jan 24 2013
Boniface is from Kakamega He read about iCow through Safaricom Sms and registered because he needed information to widen his farming knowledge. He said that he is now more knowledgeable than he was before he joined iCow. He has learnt more on diseases, Feeding and hygiene. He would like info on growing of passion fruits. He has 70 Kienyeji chickens but before he registered on iCow he had 3 hens and 20 young chickens but when we started educating him on Kienyeji rearing he started taking rearing of kienyeji chicken seriously, he bought fertilized eggs and hatched them with his brooding hens. The problems that he has encountered are diseases. He didn't know about Kalenda but I told him and he said that he is going to register them on Kalenda. He has registered on Mashauri Kienyeji. He is a civil servant and his plan is to have many chickens and start selling them as well as the Kienyeji eggs because there is high demand for them.
Jacob is from Machakos He heard about iCow through Safaricom sms and registered on MK because he is a farmer. He has 3 cows and 10 Kienyeji chickens. He said that he implements some of the info and he has learnt on how to identify new castle disease, feeding and housing. He would also like info on cows. I told him on how to register on Mashauri cow and also on Kalenda. The major problem he faces is coccidiosis disease and finding market for his chickens. He also asked me if we can visit his group because they are intending to start rearing layer chickens. I told him they can register on Mashauri Layer to get information on their new chickens
Shiriana is from Narok She said that she doesn't know how her kids learnt about iCow and subscribed to Mashauri Kienyeji. She has 1 cow and 4 kienyeji chickens. She said that she hasn't begun implementing but her children read the prompts for her and they explains although she has not managed to follow them. I asked her about the challenges that she has faced in the past and she said that there comes a season when her chickens start coughing and diarrhea and after 3 days they die. I told her to try and implement the info and she will soon start noticing the benefits and she said that she will start taking the information seriously. Her kids registered her on Mashauri Kienyeji.
Vincent is from Njoro He heard about iCow on Kass Fm radio station and subscribed because he is passionate about farming. He has 2 cows, 50 chickens and 50 chicks .He said that he implements like 2 prompts every week and he has seen a great improvement in his cows because they look very healthy and also 1 of his cows has increased milk production. His cow was producing 4ltrs of milk and she is now producing 7ltrs. He said he has seen a reduction of diseases hence cutting treatment cost due to better tick control because he ensures that his cows are sprayed every 4 days. We told him to spray his cows every 7 days as it is not necessary and costly to spray more frequently. He said he is also more knowledgeable on feeding and vaccinations. He would like to be educated on the best breeds. He didn't know about Kalenda but when I told him he said that he will register his chickens on Kalenda.
Su Kahumbu, Greendreams Ltd (right) receives her award from Kenya ICT Board Chairman Catherine Ngahu
Photo credit: IMG Kenya
Snapshot results of Impact study on farmers who joined iCow in June 2011
In Sept 2010 we did an in house survey of a focus group of farmers who had registered for 3 information prompts a week. Seven months later in Jan 2012 we repeated the survey of the same group. The results indicate that iCow is reaching it’s core objective of enabling small holder farmers increase productivity, and more!
Basic usage instructions:
Simply Dial *285# and follow the simple menu
Register for iCow:To Register on iCow Simply Dial *285# and follow menu
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