An image of a farmer in rural Ghana, draped in traditional cloth and loosely holding his staff, appears on the landing page of technology company Cowtribe’s website. Instead of keeping his eyes fixed on his herd, his gaze is lowered to his mobile phone.
He represents a new group of farmers cropping up in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. They are cloaked in tradition and modernity. They live and work in remote locations, but access veterinary services for their flocks through an app.
The on-demand animal health care service many of them use is provided by Cowtribe. The company was started in 2016 to help reduce the high livestock mortality rate plaguing poor farmers who depend on their cattle for income. Currently operating in 119 communities in Ghana’s Upper East and West regions, it is downloaded by 29,000 farmers.
“Our system allows us to track the health statistics of each animal, remind the farmer when it is time for his animals to receive services, and then facilitate all the logistics and supply processes to reliably deliver vaccines to the farmer,” Cowtribe says on its website.
The app’s cloud-based logistics management system allows the group to deliver vaccines to farmers anywhere in the regions in which it operates and at any time, usually within 24 hours of a call being made. Ordinarily farmers in far-flung areas would wait weeks for veterinary services to arrive.
The system also helps farmers keep track of the vaccination schedules for every animal they own, and monitors other health indicators to provide reliable statistics for the herd. The subscription-based service has reduced operating costs for farmers who would normally travel many miles and endure long queues to purchase vaccines and other treatments for their livestock.
Instead the platform’s 235 trained providers travel to the farms under Cowtribe’s service, looking after 240,000 animals.
In South Africa, Nguni Cattle Society, uses a similar system but it is not powered by mobile technology, said Maki Moshao, a filing clerk at the breeding society.
“We have qualified inspectors who go out and check on every animal when the time comes. People join the society so that professional inspectors can come check on the cattle on a regular basis,” he said.
Local app Livestock Wealth resembles the Cowtribe model, according to Humbulani Singo, who works for the company. The app connects farmers and investors strictly, however.
“The app monitors the progress of the livestock individually, and we have professionals and interns who studied agriculture to monitor the livestock,” he said.
According to World Bank data from 2014 around 800 million people in rural regions across the world, accounting for 78% of the planet’s poor, relied on farming to put food on their tables. But the threat of disease has cost poor farmers, and those who rely on their produce, greatly. Losses from animal diseases worldwide are estimated to exceed 20%, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
“While tremendous investments have been made to access animal health services in Africa, barriers to delivering these services remain a significant challenge, especially in the most rural and remote communities,” Cowtribe says.
But the company believes its solution has helped ease this burden on small-scale farmers in Ghana, considering estimates that with every $1 spent on animal vaccines more than $100 is saved in treatments costs. Among its communities livestock mortality rates are reducing, the company claims.
“Our farmers are happier now because when they wake up in the morning they no longer worry about where to get vaccines for their animals,” he said.