In the hilly red soil that is prone to mudslides, 50-year-old Peter Muhuri admires his five well-built Friesian cows in two different sheds eating chopped Napier grass. The apple of his eye is one of the expectant heifers that will give him his first pedigree in November.
Mr Muhuri, who says he has embraced modern technology farming, is reaping big from a mobile phone application called iCow that gives him information on how to manage his cows, including nutrition, reproduction cycle and milk production.
Through the application at a cost of five shillings per text, the dairy farmer based in Mukurwe-ini, about 100 kilometres North East of the capital, Nairobi, took up breeding as a lucrative business after accessing qualified veterinary officers via iCow, who have helped him attain the highest status of a breeder—a pedigree.
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“The local veterinary officer keeps stock of low value but those of iCow are interested in increasing the genetic modification of the breed,” said Mr Muhuri.
“Because naturally we keep on forgetting issues, so iCow comes in handy reminding us of dates, so you prepare yourself when to service (artificial insemination) the animals and also finances.”
Though agriculture contributes about 25 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, a bulk of farmers in Kenya are small-scale, hence lack opportunities and finances for professional advice on how to increase yield, disease control and markets.
Su Kahumbu, the innovator of the mobile phone application told Biashara SME she invented the service after realising the difficulty of accessing information. Ms Kahumbu, an ardent organic farmer since 1997, said she could then not get any information on organic farming.
The platform which has 25,000 farmers after two years in operation has seen some farmers more than double their income, Kahumbu said. “Within seven months of being on the platform, we did a survey … 42 per cent of the farmers that we surveyed said they had increased income, majority due to increase in milk yield of between 11/2-3 litres per animal.”
Besides cows, farmers can also register other animals like goats.
Through iCow, Michael Ruchu was able to source for a market for the rare and expensive goat milk. Every week for the past two years, Ruchu has been selling 30 litres of goat milk for Sh7,500.
For a farmer who started dairy production with just one cow seven years ago, Mr Muhuri intends to increase the number of cows to 20 this year and aims to add value to his milk and that of other farmers in the area to earn more form the basic commodity.
“We want to add value to our milk because what we are getting from the co-operative is just peanuts at between Sh15 and 20 per litre, while we know the retail price of milk is Sh40 to 50.”
The owner of Multijoy Farm, coined after his first breed Joy, said he was able to sell one of his heifers through iCow’s Soko platform.
Get it right
“They managed to get me a buyer and I was able to sell the heifer for Sh90,000 instead of the Sh40,000 the locals here were ready to pay..”
Ms Kahumbu who “wants to get it right first in Kenya before expanding” said the company receives enquires on the iCow services from as far as Asia.
Word of mouth is the main marketing tool for iCow, which Kahumbu said targets to have one million farmers across the country in the next five years.
One of the biggest challenges of agriculture besides lack of information is risk, that really impact on yields, profitability and sustainability of farmers
“What iCow is doing is reducing the risk,” said Kahumbu.