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A mobile phone application (app) known as ‘iCow’ is helping Kenyan farmers better manage their herds through timely expert advice to help maximise their profits.
Invented by Su Kahumbu, an organic farmer living outside Nairobi, the app allows herders to register their cows individually and receive tailored text messages to their mobile phones, containing information on cattle prices, feeding schedules, veterinary care and more.
"80 per cent of Kenyans are farmers, and by that I mean people who make a living off the land, and 80 per cent of the food people eat comes from people who sell in the rural marketplace," Kahumbu tells The Christian Science Monitor.
"So, even though I’m not an expert in technology or development, I thought, why not take the gestation calendar of a cow and send it to agriculturalists, and that can help them increase their productivity, and also increase their savings."
iCow is the latest example of high-tech, entrepreneurial culture that is starting to take hold in Kenya, according to experts.
"We have a large number of Kenyans doing software development and, because of successes like MPESA [the first mobile money transfer service], a lot of them are developing mobile applications," says Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
"For every 100 start-ups, maybe one will succeed, but that one company may change the lives of a lot of people."
Examples of such life-changing start-ups include M-Lab (mobile lab) — which has developed mobile-phone applications aimed at Kenyan consumers, from mobile-phone banking and health care to commodity prices for farmers — and FabLab, at the University of Nairobi, where scientists are helping young engineering students and designers develop their inventions, test them, and take them to market.
On a continent with nearly a billion people, nearly half of whom have a mobile phone, small-scale, low-cost technology solutions may become a huge area of growth for a large number of individual innovators, says the magazine.
Kahumbu adds: "If we can only do what I’m trying to do with iCow, riding on the back of technology, we can make a huge impact on ordinary people’s lives".