iCow is Helping Kids Eat Healthy

December 25, 2017 - 5 minutes read

Getting the proper nutrition in your daily diet is a challenge for anyone. A variety of MedTech and mHealth apps have tried to solve this conundrum in the past. So far, nothing coming out of tech hubs like San Francisco or New York City has been able to address this dilemma in Africa, where it has become a predicament of epidemic proportions.

But now, an app from Kenyan startup iCow is tackling this problem by giving African farmers the information they need to optimize their farming habits. Knowledge is indeed power.

A Problem Too Big to Ignore

At TEDGlobal in Tanzania, iCow founder Su Kahumbu Stephanou discussed the huge problem his startup is solving: “59 million children struggle to reach their potential, their genetic potential, because they don’t get enough protein when they are growing up.”

To get the proper nutrition while growing up, children need access to an array of essential amino acids. These are usually sourced from animals through meat as well as dairy products, like milk and eggs. In Africa, the majority of farming is crop-based, so vegetables end up being the main source of protein.

In order to address this, iCow is educating farmers on how they can improve their practice. “We call [them] farmers for lack of a better word. They are not trained and their average age is 36. The last time they had any formal education was when they were 12-13 years old,” Stephanou says. “And they are expected to feed a nation.”

Helping Farmers Stay Safe

Besides enriching the diets of the youth, iCow hopes its education will allow more farmers to work safely. Currently, smallholder farmers often pick up zoonotic diseases from working so closely with animals. These types of diseases cause 2.2 million deaths every year.

“The greatest burden of zoonosis falls on 1 billion poor livestock keepers. We totally underestimate poor livestock farmers,” Stephanou elaborates, “They pretty much underpin our existence but most lack knowledge on livestock disease… It sounds pretty gloomy, doesn’t it? But we’re changing that narrative using innovative solutions like SMS and iCow.”

A New Way to Educate

The company, which considers itself “the farmer’s best friend,” is teaching farmers through the use of SMS messages. Of Africa’s 1.1 billion population (which include approximately 200 million youth and 700 million farmers), only 60% have access to mobile applications, so SMS remains a prime way to communicate. iCow’s services also come in multiple languages to ensure all farmers can benefit from the advice.

iCow sends three messages a week. Within three months, farmers usually start seeing a marked increase in livestock practice productivity. New members don’t need to worry about missing out on tips. All messages are archived so they can be easily consulted anytime.

Besides advice on optimizing animal nutrition, iCow also provides farmers with calendars to keep track of time-sensitive cycles, like a cow’s oestrus cycle. The company also keeps farmers up-to-date on costs of assets like milk and crops. Last but not least, iCow connects farmers with industry leaders like agricultural financial experts and veterinarians so they can leverage their insights.

A Homegrown Solution

Since its 2011 launch, iCow has helped over half a million users. In 2016, the app expanded to Tanzania and Ethiopia. Currently, about 60,000 farmers use iCow’s services. Tanzania and Ethiopia comprise roughly a third of this figure.

Although her company has achieved some monumental feats already, Stephanou hints that this just the beginning for iCow. She recently launched iCow Global, a crowd-funding program in which donors can buy a whole year’s worth of iCow advice for a farmer for just $15.

“Knowledge doesn’t need to be expensive. Knowledge can be a low-cost intervention. We have the power in our hands to make sure livestock production systems are profitable and safe,” Stephanou says. “We are working with smallholder farmers to make sure that each and every child has the potential to reach their full genetic potential. We should be able to bring a halt to stunting in Africa.”

We absolutely love learning about how innovative individuals like Stephanou are improving communities around the world with their elegant solutions. If you’d like to help a farmer, click this link to go to iCow Global right now. $15 is a small amount to ask for to improve the lives of hundreds.

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