How Digital Innovation Will Unlock the Potential of Africa’s Livestock Producers

Written by Enrique Hernández Pando, Head of Commercial Development & Impact, and Tom Osebe, Senior Manager, Commercial Development & Impact, Africa. Originally published by Farming First.

New animal health platforms are needed to unleash the commercial and development potential of small-scale livestock producers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Home to tens of millions of small-scale livestock producers and a quarter of the world’s livestock, Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to become the commercial powerhouse of the animal health industry. For decades, however, a variety of investment barriers have prevented animal health companies from tapping into this potential. A lack of market data and intelligence makes investment a challenging proposition and the widely dispersed and often remote farms tended by small-scale producers are a challenge to veterinary service networks.

This is not just bad news for business. Limited investment has denied the continent’s small-scale producers the same access to quality animal health products and expertise as their counterparts in the Global North. Reliant on limited and often unregulated medicines and unable to meet regularly with vets, millions of small-scale producers are forced to raise their animals sub-optimally, impacting profits. Livestock’s proven ability to fuel sustainable development through increased incomes, improved nutrition and economic prosperity is being curtailed.

Now for the good news. With digital innovations that are already being developed, we can unleash the enormous potential of Sub-Saharan Africa’s small-scale livestock producers and turbo-charge the animal health industry.

Market intelligence platform

Establishing prosperous and sustainable animal health markets is a long-term goal of the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), an organisation dedicated to making livestock vaccines, medicines and diagnostics accessible and affordable in Africa and South Asia. For the past few years, GALVmed has been working with a wide range of partners to create a suite of digital platforms designed to finally bridge the gaps between the animal health industry and the continent’s small-scale producers.

The first of these – which is being developed in partnership with AgNexus Africa, Kruger Consulting, Pizzly Consult and Folio3 – is a Market Intelligence Platform. By aggregating reliable and up-to-date sales data from various sources in the animal health industry, the Market Intelligence Platform will give companies an unprecedented understanding of the size and nature of the animal health market across sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2024, a minimum viable product will be developed to allow users to size and estimate the Kenyan market. This will help companies quantify demand, secure investments and reach underserved small-scale livestock producers. The platform will be expanded to include Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria. 

To ensure the Market Intelligence Platform continues to provide accurate information for years to come, GALVmed is also helping to digitise the agrodealer industry. Since December 2023, AgNexus Africa and GALVmed have been equipping hundreds of agrodealers in Kenya and Tanzania with smart devices that log their sales. Not only is this improving the efficiency of the industry, but the logged sales data will be fed into the Market Intelligence Platform, providing businesses with a steady stream of real-time market data. 

Telehealth and e-commerce platform

The second major innovation is the Telehealth and E-commerce Platform, which is designed to tackle the limited reach of animal health professionals in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, vets and paravets can only visit about five farms a day as they navigate remote villages, poor infrastructure and seasonal access roads. The Telehealth and E-commerce Platform is set to dramatically increase the number of cases these professionals can take on by enabling virtual consultations and clinical sign recognition.

In partnership with VetNOW, the National Animal Disease Information Service and Africa Veterinary Technicians Association, a team of 10 vets has been enlisted to populate the platform with diagnostic information for an initial 55 priority diseases of cattle, sheep and goats. There are also plans for the platform to enable vets and paravets to give prescriptions, order products, submit cases for laboratory testing and even scan product barcodes to see if a particular animal health product is licensed to be traded. The Telehealth and E-commerce Platform will in future integrate with the Market Intelligence Platform, creating comprehensive market datasets for the poorly understood last mile of animal health value chains.   

In 2024, a minimum viable product offering telemedicine and clinical sign recognition – but without the e-commerce component – will be developed, covering Kenya’s Kiambu and Nakuru counties. This project is being implemented within Kenya’s veterinary medicine practice regulations.

Unleashing the potential of livestock producers

These platforms will be available via AgNexus Africa and VetNOW. The Market Intelligence Platform data will use a fee-based subscription model to ensure its long-term sustainability. The Telehealth and E-commerce Platform, meanwhile, will work on a demand aggregation model – similar to how taxi and food delivery apps work – with VetNOW in charge of the day-to-day operations. 

By ending the disconnect between the animal health sector and small-scale livestock producers, these platforms will help unleash the commercial and development potential of sub-Saharan Africa’s livestock.

Cover image credit: @Shutterstock/Wazzkii

Barriers in the livestock health market: Service provision

Animal health services and products are still out of reach for millions of Small-Scale Producers (SSPs) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). One of the reasons for this is that even though SSPs account for a large number of animal keepers in SSA and SA – 35% of cattle head and 43% of sheep and goat head of world respectively, they are scattered, concentrated in rural areas and operate their production on low input, low output system. This makes animal health service provision challenging. SSPs also have less to spend on animal health further pushing away veterinary service from their reach. A veterinary service provider needs to travel long distances to visit just a few farms and a smaller number of animals, which makes their services costly. Consequently, SSPs tend not to treat their animals or in the instances that they do, they get advice from less qualified people and use low-quality medicines inappropriately. This often leads to bigger issues such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).  It also means a large percentage of animal heads are dying before maturity or performing below capacity after surviving, in absence of effective and reliable animal health service provision.

Filling the gap

More veterinarians are needed to serve and supervise Veterinary paraprofessionals (VPP) work. But this is easier said than done and has been a problem for decades. The ratio of veterinarians to livestock in African countries is 20 times lower than the developed part of the world like Denmark, France, USA. In India, only half of the required number of vets are available currently. In SSA and SA, a small number of veterinarians along with VPPs are expected to carry out a range of animal health services – from vaccination to diagnosis and treatment. This is a big challenge for public, private, and non-profit sectors involved in overall livestock and poultry development to help a large number of SSPs.

One solution that has been tested is filling this gap with trained community-based animal health workers, who perform basic services like vaccination and de-worming. GALVmed for example has worked with trained community animal health workers in supervision of veterinarians in the delivery of millions of doses of Newcastle Disease vaccines to backyard poultry producers. These projects not only served SSPs at their doorstep but also created sustainable employment in rural areas. However, it is not without challenges; including lack of proper visibility of their operations by few veterinarians, making their work difficult to track to ensure quality.

What next then?

The demand for veterinary services in these regions is only going to increase, but the number of vets perhaps not so.  Which is why we need to look at other innovative measures that can help us reach SSPs with services and products. Digital interventions like tele-health platforms have the potential to address some of these requirements, considering the fast growth in the use of the Internet and mobile phones.

Tele-health platforms can quickly connect animal health service providers with SSPs and cut down the unwanted expense in travel and time. Veterinarians can supervise the work of VPPs remotely; diseases and outbreaks can be reported quickly; quality consultation and prescription can stop the use of inferior and fake medicine, and can also help in reducing AMR. Consequently, more animals will survive and produce more to contribute to overall food and nutritional security.

GALVmed is working with partners and veterinary authorities to develop a Telehealth and e-commerce platform with the aim of making products and veterinarian-supervised services available and accessible to SSPs. The Telehealth and e-commerce platform is one of three proposed platforms to deliver a comprehensive, financially sustainable solution that will unlock new opportunities for growth in the animal health industry.

Written by Peetambar Kushwaha, Senior Manager of Commercial Development & Impact, South Asia.