By George Munene
Lagos/Nairobi/Johannesburg, 31 January 2023—Heifer International announced the 2022 winners of the AYuTe Africa Challenge that supports agritech innovators. These include Kenya’s DigiCow, ThriveAgric of Nigeria, and Botwana-based Brastorne Enterprises.
Created by Peninah Wanja in 2014, Nairobi-based DigiCow is helping small-scale African dairy operations increase productivity with technology that provides free access to livestock management experts and links farmers to skilled and qualified veterinarians, artificial insemination providers and feed supply services—all from their mobile phones.
DigiCow’s innovative yet practical support system for small-scale dairy farmers prompted its selection as a winner of the 2022 AYuTe Africa Challenge.
Its core business is the development of mobile phone technologies for the agricultural sector to enable the agricultural value chain to increase productivity and profitability through data-driven decisions. In April 2019, DigiCow won the Disruptive Agricultural Technologies challenge organized by the World Bank, emerging as the most innovative agritech company in Kenya.
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The small-scale dairy operations common across Africa—many operated by women—offer an enormous opportunity to generate income for farmers and affordable, nutrient-dense food for a region that still suffers high rates of malnutrition. But the significant challenges that come with raising, breeding, and managing healthy dairy cows have limited the productivity of Africa’s smallholder dairy farms.
“My mother had two cows, and they provided very little milk because they were not properly managed,” said Peninah Wanja, founder and creator of DigiCow.
In addition to growing up in a farming family, Wanja has an MBA in finance and spent 15 years as an extension agent working with smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya. This background gave her visibility into the many challenges of running a successful dairy business—insights she used to inform DigiCow’s services.
“It is a passion,” Wanja said. “Eradicating hunger and poverty in Africa is no easy task, but it’s something we’re keen on achieving when we support small-scale farmers and their communities. Tech is a key part of that effort. Through DigiCow, we’re not just connecting farmers to resources and knowledge—we’re also getting farmers and providers to work together.”
DigiCow has been successful because it helps farmers and creates demand and business opportunities for suppliers and providers who can help farmers achieve their goals and bring products to market, Wanja explained.
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For example, in addition to providing expert advice and training services at no cost, the DigiCow Dairy app has a feature that helps farmers improve breeding by automatically tracking gestation dates. The technology provides an Electronic Record Management platform for veterinary service providers, making it easy for service providers to retrieve the health records of cows, track pregnancy, and deliver timely alerts for individual cows.
DigiCow has already reached 60,000 dairy farmers. Wanja is confident the funding and business development guidance she receives as an AYuTe Africa Champion will help her company connect with half a million dairy farmers over the next year.