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Ghana: Digital vaccine delivery service

Dossier

Vaccines provided by Cowtribe have helped to reduce high livestock mortality rates and increase women farmers’ incomes

© Cowtribe

by Kofi Adu Domfeh

Livestock farmers in rural Ghana are receiving veterinary services delivered to their door at the tap of a finger when they register with Cowtribe’s app.

In the pastoral northern regions of Ghana, as in many African countries, women bear the responsibility for providing and caring for the household. As livestock farming is the primary source of income, this includes rearing farm goats, sheep, and poultry. However, the high prevalence of disease often leads to the death of their animals. To help farmers fight livestock disease, Cowtribe – a winner of CTA’s 2018 Pitch Agrihack – has developed a digital on-demand and subscription-based service, which delivers livestock vaccines to rural farmers.

Leveraging technology

Cowtribe’s ‘Lamisi’ project aims to ensure that men and women have equal access to veterinary services using a unique cloud-based logistics management system, which enables delivery of vaccine services to farmers when and where they are needed. The system also allows farmers to track the health of each animal, and reminds them when their animals need veterinary services.

“By leveraging technology to digitise data, we are able to see areas where services are lagging and we make sure services reach the farmers in a very affordable and convenient manner,” says Alima Bawah, co-founder of Cowtribe, which she helped to establish in 2016. With farmers subscribing to the service by mobile phone, Cowtribe can collect relevant information about the farmer and his/her animals in order to better understand their needs.

Alima Bawah is excited to be implementing innovative livestock solutions to benefit women’s livelihoods. As a girl, growing up with her grandmother in Ghana’s Northern Region, Alima never encountered a veterinarian. The household’s poultry often died from Newcastle disease because the family could not access vaccines. “Finding this kind of solution for other rural folks that are living like myself and my grandmother is something that gives me inner satisfaction,” she enthuses.

A tailor-made solution

Cowtribe selects target communities based on population size, livestock population, main income source and other relevant information. A concept selling meeting is organised by field agents to mobilise interest within the community and inform farmers about the value of vaccines, as well as how Cowtribe helps farmers to access veterinary services. Those with livestock, who are convinced by the value of the platform, are registered and signed up to Cowtribe for an annual subscription fee of €4.50.

Although mobile phones are prevalent in Ghana’s rural areas, internet connectivity is limited. However, Cowtribe’s system is tailor-made to ensure that internet access is not a limitation. “We have built our platform to be offline, so the agents that are using our app in the field to register the farmers do not need to have internet before they use the platform,” Alima explained.

Orders for vaccines within a community are aggregated to enable delivery in bulk – some vaccines are given out for free and others at subsidised prices. Registered women also receive voice messages in their local languages via their mobile phones, which tell them the availability of a vaccine, as well as offering advice on best farm practices and livestock management.

Creating economic and social value

The access to vaccines provided by Cowtribe has helped to reduce high livestock mortality rates and increase farmers’ incomes. Since subscribing to Cowtribe, Latif Yapaga, a 34-year-old mother of four from the Gbugli community in Kumbungu district, has increased her poultry birds from seven to 21 without being affected by the outbreak of disease. The income she has generated has enabled Yapaga to buy school uniforms for her children. “Previously, our animals would die unexpectedly, but now we have vaccines to keep them healthy. We are on the path of multiplying our livestock and hopefully my family will have a better future,” she says.

“Our focus is not just in the commercial value but the social impacts that we are making,” states Alima. To promote women’s economic empowerment, Cowtribe works with groups of women to ease the process of sharing information and also help them to support each other. Each woman in the group is given two birds for free by Cowtribe. The women breed their two birds to produce 20 and then pass on two to the next woman in a revolving scheme.

Future opportunities

Since its inception, Cowtribe has expanded its services to 30,000 farmers in 230 communities in the Brong Ahafo, Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana, and around 200 vets have been trained to provide support services. By the end of 2019, the target is to reach 100,000 farmers – from 10 communities in each of Ghana’s 10 regions. Women constitute at least 60% of Cowtribe’s target.

In March 2019, a new app called Benefy will be launched to enable third-party applicants to buy vaccines through remittance for delivery to a beneficiary at location. A son living in the Greater Accra Region, for instance, could use the app to purchase a vaccine for his mother in the Northern Region. “We are looking at a future where every farmer has access to animal vaccines… Where there are no more diseases that are killing livestock that would have otherwise helped to pay schools fees,” explains Alima.

In the future, Cowtribe also hopes to link livestock farmers to markets to help sell their products. “Now they have access to vaccines at their convenience and there is no more mortality amongst their flock, as a result of disease… farmers are able to sell their surplus livestock to meet their needs,” says Alima. Cowtribe is building partnerships and receiving attention at the national and international levels to achieve these ambitions.

Cowtribe gained visibility through winning the British Council Social Innovation Challenge in December 2016. More recently, in September 2018, the social enterprise was selected as one of the eight winners of Pitch Agrihack – a start-up competition that provides business training and mentorship, as well as the opportunity to pitch to potential investors. Cowtribe won a grant of €15,000 as a result, which they are using to scale their services.