A snapshot of digital tools for livestock development

Around the world, mobile applications are supporting better animal health, productivity and farmer income, and supporting new data-driven insights and decisions. Discover some examples from the LD4D network

By Vanessa Meadu 

Mobile apps and other digital tools are used widely in the livestock sector in low-and middle-income countries, offering new opportunities to gather data, communicate with farmers and extension workers, and help inform decisions. And while use of mobiles on farm have come a long way from the early days of text-based messaging, the latest applications continue to offer vital information to those farmers who need it most.

As we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on 17 May, we run through some of the digital tools developed by members of the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) network. These innovations are helping to improving livestock health and productivity for small-scale livestock keepers in many parts of the world. 

Apps for on-farm use

These tools are developed for use by farmers and/or the extension workers who advise them. Designed to support better on-farm decisions, these tools are now widespread in many low-and middle-income countries. Examples include tools to help decide what to feed animals, choose animal husbandry techniques, estimate animal live weight, diagnose health issues, and receive veterinary advice.

The On-farm Feed Advisor for cattle from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) helps extension staff advise farmers to balance their animals’ diet by matching nutrients and production in the feed offered, based on the animal body weight, milk production and stage of pregnancy. Meanwhile, ILRI’s FeedCalculator guides small-scale farmers to make low-cost and high-quality pig feed.

The Africa Dairy Genetic Gains (ADGG) e-learning tool, trains farmers in cattle breeding and health management practices. It was developed ILRI’s livestock genetics team in partnership with Learn.Ink

 

An Indian women interacts with a MoooFarm app. Photo: MoooFarm

MoooFarm offers mobile advisory services to smallholder dairy farmers in India. Their connected commerce solutions include a suite of digital innovations, allowing farmers to connect with veterinarians, connect with each other, and access market and business news. Their digital farm management program including cattle registry, an e-commerce platform which enables quick access to quality inputs, and Fin-Tech, where farmers can access credit and insurance services. 

Zoetis Alpha have developed the LabCards app, which allows veterinarians to manage data about the samples they collect from farm to lab, rapidly receive lab results, and decide on treatment pathways. 

The app evolution - moving towards big data

While apps can provide a direct benefit to farmers and veterinarians, many of these, including LabCards and MoooFarm also aggregate and process enormous amounts of user data. This offers new sources of data for researchers and product developers, which can be analysed to generate new insights and lead to further improvements.

This is an important evolution according to Bernhard Hack, who manages ILRI’s digital ecosystems. “There used to be extension-type apps to help farmers make decisions, and research-type apps to gather data. Now these things are being blended: you can provide a service as well as collect data provided by the users in the process,” he says.

Apps for low-cost data collection 

Digital applications are allowing researchers to cheaply and easily gather data that would have been onerous to collect in the pre-mobile phone era. New tools allow citizen-scientists to collect data on the ground, for example observations in markets or on-farm. This approach enables large-scale data gathering at a low cost. This data can then be pooled and analysed, and even combined with other sources of data to develop new insights. 

KAZNET mobile application screenshot

For example, the team behind the groundbreaking Index Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project developed KAZNET, a tool to crowd-source data from livestock marketplaces across East Africa. KAZNET is a simple, low-cost system that can be used by farmers and other users to collect and deliver market information and environmental indicators in remote locations through the use of simple formats, such as Short Message Systems (SMS). Through KAZNET, pastoralists can see the status of the livestock market operations, prices of livestock and unprocessed livestock products, trade volumes, and quality demands. This crowd-sourced data can then be blended with other sources such as satellite images of vegetation and soil cover, to more accurately and rapidly identify and respond issues that affect livestock-keepers 

Market-based apps such as the AgriTrack tool from AgNexus, collects monthly data on farmer spending from a network of participating agrovet dealers across Kenya. AgriTrack helps manufacturers, vendors, and other supply chain actors make better decisions relating to marketing, pricing, packaging, and supply of agrovet products. 

Apps for project management

The LastMile mobile app, a tool to monitor day-to-day livestock health management activities, is developed by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, with support from the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed). Developed for use by project teams working on the LastMile initiative, the app supports accurate data collection and tracking, and helps teams stay connected with farmers, retailers and veterinarians. 

What are we learning and what happens next?

Some key lessons have emerged from more than a decade of developing and using apps for farmers, decision makers and research. ILRI’s Bernhard Hack points to three elements that need attention: common standards, open data and partnerships. 

“There need to be common standards for apps to work properly,” he explains. As a result, ILRI have developed standard internal processes and guidelines for app development to ensure apps can easily be updated, transferred, and made fully open and accessible. As well, “if you want to do something useful with your app, there needs to be interoperability,” says Hack. Increasingly, app developers are using APIs and Linked Open Data, allowing the application to interface with other types of software. Finally, Hack points out the benefits of creating apps through partnerships, for example with the private sector. While private companies may have more technical expertise and customer orientation, there may also be challenges around Intellectual Property, he explains. 

Digital applications are a recent addition to the catalogue of livestock development interventions, and they are not a panacea. Their successful use depends on farmers having access to technology and electricity, and having some digital literacy. While the digital divide may be slowly diminishing, the needs and abilities of small-scale livestock keepers must be at the heart of application design and implementation. Organisations developing digital tools should also work on developing trust and transparency with potential users, to ensure these tools can bring about meaningful change.

Learn more 

These mobile applications are only the tip of the iceberg, and there are plenty more tools available for use in smallholder livestock settings: 

Do you know about other inventories of digital applications for the small-holder livestock sector? Let us know!
 


Vanessa Meadu is Communications and Knowledge Sharing Specialist with SEBI-Livestock. SEBI-Livestock convenes the LD4D Community of Practice.

Header photo: A farmer uses a digital app to guide decisions about feed. Image shows use of the PigSmart app in ILRI's More Pork Project in Uganda. Photo: K. Dhanji (ILRI) - Source

Related content