Mixing it up by mobile
In collaboration with nutritionists, software developers and farmers in developing countries, Dutch consultancy firm, Single Spark, has helped to develop an app that instructs farmers how to prepare the optimum livestock feed to meet their needs.
Feed Calculator, a new app targeting smallholder livestock farmers in developing countries, provides farmers with the best recipe to mix their own feed. To obtain the optimum feed formula, farmers simply select which animals they want to feed, the locally available ingredients and the corresponding prices, and the app makes the calculation. With trials completed in Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia, the Feed Calculator was officially launched at the end of 2017. Since then, the app has already been downloaded over 5,000 times, with 80-100 new downloads every day.
In areas where food is often scarce, it is hard to find nutritious products for livestock, particularly as instant compound feeds tend to be inconsistent in quality. At the same time, urbanisation and the rise in living standards has increased the demand for meat and other animal products, such as eggs and dairy. As a result, fierce market competition between produce for animal and human consumption has pushed animal feed prices sky-high, and feed now accounts for over 70% of livestock farmers’ costs.
Buying the required ingredients to mix animal feed themselves is far more cost-effective for farmers, but to do so, they need a reliable recipe and knowledge about the correct ratio of nutrients that their livestock require at a particular age. Farmers also need to know the nutritional value of the different ingredients available to them at the local market. Feed Calculator provides the ideal solution to this problem, which Peter Meijer, managing director of Single Spark, identified whilst travelling around Africa. “More and more people have a computer in their pocket,” explains Meijer waving his smartphone. “So our question was: why shouldn’t this information be available in a useful and easy-to-use app for the mobile phone?”
Feed Calculator simplifies a previously complicated procedure and allows farmers to bypass professional feed processors. The cost savings, combined with the guarantee of high quality and nutritional feed that comes with using the app, have helped to reduce feed costs by 30% and increase farmers’ incomes by over 50%. Amina Shemshi, a Tanzanian poultry farmer says Feed Calculator has more than doubled her profits from selling 300 chicks from €71-89 (200,000-250,000 Tanzanian shillings) to €195-213 (TZS 550,000-600,000). “I used to sell my chicks when they were 6 weeks, but now I can sell them earlier,” Shemshi explains. Meijer says he intends to scale up this success, “We want to raise the incomes of 1 million farmers by 2020.”
Until now, the app’s algorithms have only been able to generate formulas for pig and poultry feed – both layers and broilers – but instructions for other livestock feed are on the way. “At the moment, we are working on recipes for catfish feed,” says Meijer. Together with Oxfam Novib, Single Spark is trialling the app with 70 catfish farms in Nigeria, who have distributed their fish between two ponds. “The fish in the one pond will be fed with the help of the app, while the other pond gets regular catfish feed,” explains Meijer.
The Feed Calculator app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and is free to use for smallholder farmers with up to 1,000 poultry or 10 pigs for up to six feed recipes per year. Farmers with higher numbers of livestock have to pay €50 per year, but the savings compared to buying pre-prepared feed mean that the fee will be earnt back within a couple of weeks. Most of the apps users are from India, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, but the company has received positive feedback and testimonials from all over the world.
Marc van der Sterren