Scotland-based technology company Cojengo has partnered with Microsoft 4Afrika to provide diagnostic tools and disease surveillance data to farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.
Founded by Craig Taylor and Iain Collins, two graduates from Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde, Cojengo was developed to help African farmers overcome various issues by using technology. Writing in a blog post, Cojengo’s CEO Taylor explained that he first witnessed the challenges faced by the farmers when visiting Ethiopia as part of a final year university project in 2008.
“I actually went across to Ethiopia and began to really get initial exposure to the problems faced by people in the area,” said Taylor. “This was at the time mobile technology had really started to kick in – there was an emerging opportunity to take advantage of mobile as there was no fixed line infrastructure. The project kicked off last year when we returned to Africa to further understand the challenges, whether they still existed and how the technology could help them.”
Leveraging the benefits of Microsoft’s BizSpark programme, which provides members with complimentary access to the company’s software, Cojengo built the VetAfrica app in C# using Microsoft Visual Studio. Although English is the first language of many of the farmers, VetaAfrica has an image-based, rather than a text-based, user interface.
It is designed for Windows Phone, which is one of the fastest growing platforms in Africa, and uses the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and server side scripting to collect live data that can be accessed by farmers to quickly and accurately diagnose livestock illness and identify the most effective treatment.
Vets and animal health workers can also use the app to access resources when working in rural areas, or to carry out disease surveillance and reporting. In addition, monthly livestock forms can be completed more quickly, enabling vets to visit up to 20 farms in one day, rather than four or five.
Taylor said: “In the developing world there is a lack of professional veterinary services available to farmers and with 80% of the population across East Africa associated with agriculture, it’s vital that people have access to professional veterinary services like we do in the developed world and help keep the farmer’s livestock as healthy as possible.”
Designed to work offline and synchronise data when appropriate, the app requires the user to be connected to the internet via a wi-fi or Global System for Mobiles connection when sharing data. This initially caused problems as the farmers use top-up cards and pay-as-you-go schemes to buy data and internet connection.
To ensure high performance, the app uses GPS to find the position of animals on a district level. But rather than using GPS to provide an exact location, the reading was slightly desensitised. “Precise GPS tracking takes a while and the app would time out so we made it work to a rough point within certain boundaries” said Taylor. “This was less accurate but increased performance. Cows can move around anyway so it doesn’t have to be spot on – it’s fine to get district level data or review locations between borders.”
VetAfrica was initially tested by Cojengo and then underwent extensive testing by animal health assistants in Uganda last November. Farmers can rate and review the app via a built-in feedback feature, enabling Cojengo to understand how the app is being used and identify areas for improvement.
“It’s still very early days but the initial feedback has been very positive,” said Taylor. “The capability and support provided by the app has made the farmers think differently and become more diligent about looking at the animals and spotting the signs and symptoms. It’s also helped the vets improve their professional knowledge and skills.”
Cojengo has launched pilot projects with the Kenyan government and a private veterinarian distributor and will consider developing a Windows 8 app or a tablet app with different functionality in the future. The company also aims to develop a full suite of health and agriculture apps once VetAfrica has been widely adopted.
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