In the 18th century, Thomas Malthus, a political economist and demographer, predicted that by the late 1900s the world would have used up its food supply and be unable to sustain its population (Seager). Instead, the world’s agricultural production has tripled in just the last fifty years, with a large increase in the number of smallholder farmers (i.e. farmers owning small plots of land, who rely almost exclusively on family labour) (Seager). One thing Malthus did get right was the need to concentrate on how to feed a vastly growing population. Luckily, in just the past decade we have seen some very promising innovations that aid farmers in their work, even in the unexpected form of apps.
One of the most popular of these apps is VetAfrica. The app itself was developed by two computer science students, Craig Taylor and Iain Collins, at the Scottish company Conjengo Ltd. (DiCesare). The app is mostly used in eastern Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania (Godan). At its core, VetAfrica is meant to make the lives of rural farmers--who might have difficulties finding veterinarians for their animals--a little easier. More specifically, VetAfrica helps farmers quickly diagnose illnesses in their cattle and assess the severity of those illnesses. It then instructs farmers on how best to treat their animals, and informs them if professional care is necessary (Godan). These quick diagnoses save farmers both time and money. About 80% of people living in east Africa work in the agricultural sector, making this app enormously beneficial to large swaths of the populations in these countries (DiCesare). Another way the app has been an immense help to farmers is by alerting them about outbreaks of certain diseases in their areas so that they can keep a closer watch on their cattle and possibly prevent the diseases from spreading (DiCesare). These alerts also forewarn veterinarians of where they might be needed and what they’ll be dealing with.
VetAfrica will also be beneficial in the long term through its accumulation of data on the diagnoses of different cattle on different farms and in different regions (Godan). These findings will be very helpful in both herd management and animal husbandry. Breeders will be able to use the data collected by VetAfrica to mate animals according to which diseases they’re most susceptible to or resilient against. By mating cattle with diverse immune systems, there is a better chance of the next generation having more immunities to diseases. The Dean of College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture at the University of Addis Abbas in Ethiopia, Dr. Dinka Ayana, stated, “We are excited to utilise this technology to improve veterinary healthcare in our country and the lives of those who rely on it” (Godan). Dr. Ayana believes the spread of this app across Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania could help tens of millions of farmers and vets in these regions (Godan). In just its trial stages in Ethiopia in 2015, the app diagnosed 70% of illnesses correctly (Godan). Furthermore, the more farmers that use VetAfrica and report what remedies worked for their livestock, the more accurate the app becomes at recommending the right drugs and treatments for the animals of the next app user.
The only downside found in VetAfrica is that the app functions in English, whereas many east African farmers do not speak English, let alone read it (DiCesare). Another helpful app that uniquely addresses this issue and that VetAfrica should aim to emulate is Farming Instructor. While still only in English, Farming Instructor provides online and offline information for farmers and farming communities (Mwalusanya). Most importantly, all tips given by the app can be displayed as animations with helpful diagrams (Mwalusanya). In addition, on Farming Instructor, farmers can share tips with each other (Mwalusanya). The app was originally meant to inspire younger generations to be interested in the agricultural sector, as well as to inform unemployed adults on ways that they could become self-employed through farming.
While there are many challenges that the world’s population faces in terms of food shortages and survival, these apps are promising developments in supporting the agricultural industry. As the industry surges, we must ensure the techniques utilized by farmers keep up with current demands for food. These apps are surely one of the most straightforward ways to help farmers develop their farming, not only through their direct services, but also through their creation of an international online community of rural farmers that can help each other, a feat that has never been feasible before.
Mwalusanya, Ernest James. “Farming Instructor.” The Digital Springboard for Inclusive Agriculture , Ict4ag , Nov. 2018, www.ict4ag.org/en/plug-and-play-day/farming-instructor.html.
Seager, Charlotte. “Top Six Innovations for Rural Farmers.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 July 2014, www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/jul/08/top-six-innovations-smallholder-farmers-technology.
“Vetafrica Aids Farmers in Data-Based Diagnosis of Cattle Problems.” GODAN, 6 Sept. 2017,www.godan.info/documents/vetafrica-aids-farmers-data-based-diagnosis-cattle-problems.