iCow was conceptualised in October 2010 after the founder Su Kahumbu Stephanou an ardent organic farmer, was encouraged to enter the Apps4Africa tech hackathon sponsored by the US State Department. Su was at the time designing a product she had named Mkulima Farmer Information Service and Hotline (Mkulima F.I.S.H), a comprehensive agricultural extension service available to farmers over mobile phone. Building on her experience and interactions with smallholder farmers Su recognised that to be successful, farmers needed access to knowledge on good agricultural practices in both livestock and crop production. She thus set out to develop a service that would enable farmers access the vast amounts of content and verified agricultural knowledge available in the regions agricultural institutions, in a format that would be in line with small holder production systems, simple, cost effective and real time.
Mkulima F.I.S.H was designed to including content on crops, livestock, soils, farmer health and the environment. Being competitive in nature, Su took on the challenge to enter the hackathon with a component of Mkulima F.I.S.H, the cow gestation calendar, and named her entry iCow.
The gestation calendar was designed to solve the problem of lack of monitoring a cow during its pregnancy. By monitoring each cow adequately farmers reduce the risk of illness and death at birthing as well as increase their chances of a healthy calf and optimally productive mother cow. iCow required farmers register individual cows onto the platform after which they begIn to receive reminders on dairy cow best practices and actions needed to increase their productivity.
iCow went on to win the first Apps4Africa 2010 competition.
After months of development the soft launch of the SMS based version of iCow took place on June 3rd 2011 at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi. By this time the product had grown from the original gestation calendar to include an ‘expert search’. It had also changed from an IVR based service to SMS. Working with the Directorate of Veterinary Services to include the Kenyan database of experts on the iCow platform this search enabled farmers find their nearest veterinary officer or artificial inseminator 24/7. As such farmers now had access to two powerful tools aimed at reducing dairy cow production risk.
Marketing of iCow was done through visits to farmer groups and slowly farmers started to join the platform.
The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information and Communications, IT Champion Dr Bitange Ndemo officiated the event joking at the unusual prospect of launching cows in the cloud. Key note Speaker Director of Veterinary Services Dr Ithondeka spoke of the new opportunities and efficiencies ahead as iCow embraced the digital era connecting farmers with their service providers and Dr Judi Wakhungu current Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Regional Development Authorities then in her capacity as Executive Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) in Nairobi, Kenya, applauded iCow as bringing new possibilities for food security in the nation.
Between 2011 and 2012 the team behind iCow worked in two units, customer care and tech. Customer care marketed iCow directly to farmers in the field and also surveyed new users to get a better understanding of their problems and desires. The tech build was guided by the information coming from the customer care division and resulted in two new products, broadcast information on cows and the virtual market place iCow Soko. Data during this time showed the users of iCow were predominantly males with less than 13% being female. Using customer centric design and quick iterations led to a more robust product and by 2013 iCow was sporting broadcast information on poultry as well cows and poultry calendars as well as cow calendars.
iCow 1.0 was officially launched during the Brookside Livestock Breeders Show on June 26th 2012 by Mr Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom Ltd.
The platform now included USSD.
In 2012 iCow won the Vision 2030 Award for Agriculture in Kenya and was a finalist in the same year for the Innovation Prize for Africa.
2015 - iCow 2.0
iCow 2.0 was designed to scale across Africa and released on October 18th 2015. The development supported by Accenture has positioned iCow as a one of a kind solution for smallholder farmers on the continent. 2016 saw a deployment of the platform in both Tanzania and Ethiopia.
iCow continues to grow day by day, one farmer at a time and continues to Educate II Farmers II Everywhere