How one farmer improved his life and farm with texting

By: Dr Samuel Adediran, Assistant Director of Market Development and Access at GALVmed and Su Kahumbu, Founder of iCow

GALVmed partnered with iCow , the texting platform that shares agricultural information with Kenyan farmers, to provide information on vaccines. The Smart Farm Tips platform allows farmers to search for agriculture-related information 24/7 for only 3 Kenyan Shillings (ksh) per text. Farmers can receive texts on: livestock, soil, crops, horticulture; animal production, management, feeds, reproduction, disease control, processing and marketing.

As part of a Smart Farm Tips evaluation exercise, iCow’s Customer Care agents surveyed farmers to assess how they were using the knowledge gained from Smart Farm Tips.  One of the interviewees was 29 years old farmer, John Mwangi who lives in Kilifi on the Kenyan coast.

John started using iCow in March 2014 and registered for the broiler chicken product, Mashauri Broiler. He received three texts a week which drip fed information on broiler best practices (a total of 12 per month at 3.00 Ksh each). Between March and November 2014, John received 97 texts at a cost of 291.00 Ksh or US $3.30.

When John joined iCow he had 50 birds – 25 of which died from a disease, with a description fitting the Newcastle Disease profile. He sold the remaining 25 chickens at 200-250 Ksh per bird. According to John, his main chicken production constraint was disease.

After he joined iCow he bought 100 broilers and started following the information he received, which resulted in giving his birds Gumboro and Newcastle Disease vaccinations. He also adopted improved hygiene. His production then started to take off and he soon settled into a production pattern of 150 birds every two weeks – 300 birds per month. John said that in order to sell his first batch of chickens he had to go out in search of customers including hotels and the local market. However, after the second month of making improvements, clients now seek him out due to the good quality birds he is producing.

John’s balance sheet
John’s economics about his new poultry business is both interesting and funny.

Over the period, John had a turnover of about Ksh 50,000 (US $544) per batch of 150 birds with a profit of between 10,000 -15,000 Ksh (averaged at 12,500 Ksh or US $136). Since using iCow, he has produced10 batches of birds! He sells his birds between Ksh 330-350 each.

John estimated his cumulative income over this period at 50,000 Ksh a fortnight or 500,000 Ksh after10 batches of rearing. After discounting cost of chicks, feed, housing, drugs and vaccination, he estimated his profit at approximately 125,000 ksh in five months – that’s 25,000 Ksh or US $267.00 per month.

John reckoned that his extra expense apart from his peers was the cost of iCow texts at 291 Ksh (just over US $3). Thus he calculated his net profit in five months was 124,709 Ksh or US $1,358! Although this might have been exaggerated, as labour costs and other incidentals might have been overlooked, we commend John’s efforts and drive.

Asked what he spends his new money on he replied, “To pay my child’s school fees and to construct a water delivery system for domestic and production purposes at my farm.” In addition, he has saved for a new venture in goat production that he intends to start soon. He has also started searching on Smart Farm Tips for information on goats. John said that since he joined iCow his life has changed dramatically. He is a mechanic and used to struggle to make ends meet but now he says he has a good cash flow.

John made us laugh when responding to the question of sharing information with his neighbours. He said they are very impressed with his sudden economic upturn but he is keeping iCow as a secret!

A true entrepreneur guarding his market lead!

For further reading:

GALVmed’s partnership with iCow.
How we’re exploring new partnerships and business potential for vaccination against Newcastle Disease in Kenya.

GALVmed-iCow partnership uses texts to provide farmers with agricultural information

By: Dr Samuel Adediran, Assistant Director of Market Development and Access at GALVmed and Su Kahumbu, Founder of iCow

iCowis a mobile phone platform that shares agricultural information with farmers in Kenya. It currently has a database of 136,000 farmers, of which more than 65,000 are subscribers (as of January 2015).

In December 2012, GALVmed partnered with iCow on a pilot project. This project randomly sent East Coast Fever (ECF)-related texts to iCow’s 12,000 subscribers. This pilot showed that the texts were not well targeted (only 5% of texts sent were ECF related) and the information was not available on demand.

We worked together to develop another platform that would fill these holes found in the initial project. GALVmed supported iCow to develop the Smart Agri Info platform, which complements iCow’s existing knowledge-based platforms to improve livestock farmer’s access to agricultural knowledge and to provide tips for improved production and livelihood. The GALVmed support also updated the three iCow portals: Mashauri (Advice), Experts and Kalenda (livestock production calendar).

The Smart Agri Info platform was aimed to:

  • Develop Smart Agri-Info Tips
  • Make agriculture information-demand driven & available 24/7
  • Update “Veterinary” (the experts section of the database).

Smart Agri-Info Tips, also referred to as Smart Farm Tips, allows farmers to search for agriculture-related information 24/7, at 3 Kenyan Shillings (ksh) per text. Farmers dial *285# on their mobile phones and access the platform. They can then choose to receive best practice texts on soil, crops as well as horticulture and livestock practices including: animal production, management, feeds, reproduction, disease control, processing and marketing.

Under livestock diseases for instance, farmers can choose specific diseases such as East Coast fever (ECF), Rift Valley Fever, Newcastle Disease and Infectious Bursal Disease (Gumboro) diseases. It is also possible to specify other areas such as symptoms, management, prevention, control and treatment of diseases. Depending on these choices, farmers receive a number of informative texts. iCow is developed predominantly for feature phones and does not require a smart phone.

Smart Farm Tips was launched in April 2014 and after two weeks of Safaricom marketing and farmers who randomly accessed it, the platform received 9,096 total searches – 13% of which were chicken and cow related. The surge in hits crashed iCow’s client server. iCow is now investing in improved infrastructure with higher bandwidth to cater for the anticipated increase in clientele.

We look forward to our future partnership with iCow as it grows and responds to farmers’ needs. Its reception among farmers has been very positive. Read how one farmer improved his life and farm with texting.