How now, iCow? Mobile app means more milk for Kenyan farmers
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  ibmsoftware sxsw
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Africa is the world's fastest-growing market for mobile phone service. In time, it may also become the fastest-growing market for a new kind of application - and economic - development. Consider the success of iCow, "the world's first mobile phone cow calendar" and winner of the 2010 Apps4Africa contest.
Developed in Kenya as a way to increase the productivity of subsistence-level dairy farming, iCow replaces a farmer's grueling 40-mile, three-day walk to market with direct access to buyers and sellers. It also delivers information about cows' gestation periods through voice and SMS. Since its inception, 42 percent of farmers using iCow have reported increased incomes; half of these farmers attribute the rise to an increased milk yield ranging from 1.5 to 3 liters per cow. Farmers also cited benefits including:
iCow was merely one example of “How 21st century tools are disrupting global power,” in a presentation by Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Department of State and the first session in attended. You can listen to the entire presentation here.
From dairy farmers in Kenya to the recent Arab Spring, Ross explored the ways social media and other emerging, widely available technologies are rewriting the social contract between the governors and the governed. Much of the disruption stems from two concurrent trends: a dramatic increase in both both processing power and network access over the last two years. These trends, said Ross, are driving a global redistribution of power from hierarchies to individuals and networks around the world. And in the case of iCow, they're also driving innovation and improving outcomes in the lives of people around the world.
Processing power & network access on the rise
Governments looking to drive similar outcomes for their own populations would do well to follow the iCow example. Two years ago, neither the app itself - nor the Apps4Africa, for that matter - would have been possible without a major investment of technology, infrastructure and foreign expertise. iCow, said Ross, represents an entirely new approach to foreign development - one that leverages the potential of our increasingly powerful and available technologies with the deep skills and knowledge of people on the ground. Not only are these solutions more immediately effective, they're more likely to be used: 82 percent of the farmers who signed up to iCow on its release are still using the service. "This isn't a solution that someone in a shirt and tie back in Washington would come up with," said Ross.
The interactive portion of SXSW is over but the ideas and implications will linger, indeed. I've only just now begun to sift through the 3,000-plus words I jotted down at the various presentations, panels and keynotes I attended and with any luck, I'll be distlling them into useful pieces for you to ponder.