Opening the iCow website shows, at a glance, some simple but brilliant thinking. Africa’s 1.1 billion population – including 700 million farmers and 200 million youth – 60% have access to mobile phones making mobile applications (apps) and SMS-based information services both a gateway to new types of clientele and a tool for spreading useful knowledge. This was Su Kahumbu Stephanou’s thinking behind the conceptualisation of iCow, a high performing mobile app that puts farmers and their information needs at the centre of its business strategy.
In Kenya, iCow has served over 580,000 users since it was launched in 2011, and in 2016 the app was also launched in Ethiopia and Tanzania. iCow’s demand-based services include a practical calendar to determine the oestrous cycle of cows, as well as advice on optimal animal nutrition and updated costs of milk or crop production. All in several local languages. Designed for compatibility with the most basic mobile phones, iCow also helps to connect farmers to important industry players, such as input providers, agricultural financial service providers, veterinary experts and agricultural extension service providers.
CTA’s Plug & Play Day is a platform designed to allow innovators such as iCow to demonstrate the potential of their apps in the field and meet interested investors. In addition to maintaining an online platform, CTA periodically organises Plug & Play – Tech Dating for Agriculture events in collaboration with international conferences and workshops to showcase a range of ICTs and mobile apps that are being developed and implemented in the field. This is in line with one of CTA’s key objectives which is to energise rural development in Africa and attract more young people to work in agribusiness by supporting innovations in ICT.
iCow’s first opportunity to interact with this platform was in Kigali, Rwanda at the CTA International Conference on ICT4Ag in 2013. Already a year later and building on lessons from the previous year, iCow became the winner of the CTA’s AgriHack side event at International Conference of Fin4Ag in Nairobi, Kenya also organised by CTA.
A CTA hackathon winner
The success of the application as iCow’s own research data has proven lies primarily in the application’s impact on the livelihood of the farmers who use it. The users are improving their yields, milk productivity, soil fertility, egg and poultry productivity, and incomes within 3 months. Sharing her experience at another CTA Plug & Play event in Bonn, Germany Su Kahumbu Stephanou, CEO and founder of iCow, describes how enthusiasm, persistence and her ability to learn from failures were key. Several other important lessons from iCow were also shared with participants during the event, including the need to be thorough in the design of apps to ensure they are scalable and can adapt to remain relevant into the future.
These Plug & Play events provide participants and innovators the opportunity to discuss key challenges to implementing app services in the field and share new ideas that are working well. Su Kahumbu Stephanou emphasised the value of such opportunities provided by CTA, saying, “Winning the CTA hackathon in Nairobi, Kenya greatly helped the launching of this application. CTA is very supportive in the development of apps. It brings the different stakeholders together and creates visibility for what is out there. It also shows, in a balanced way, the importance of apps for agricultural development to donors and policymakers.”