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, co-founder and creator of Nairobi-based DigiCow.
DigiCow provides mobile phone apps and virtual platforms that provide free livestock management advisory services for African dairy farmers. The technology also gives farmers fast and easy access to skilled and approved veterinarians, artificial insemination providers and feed supply services. DigiCow’s innovative yet practical support system for small-scale dairy farmers prompted its selection as a winner of the 2022 AYuTe Africa Challenge.
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 and co-founders Vincent Kimani, director of communications and marketing, and Jemimah Wanjiku, head of partnerships, 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.
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.
“I grew up watching my mom struggle to get our cows to produce enough milk, and I’ve spent 15 years working with small-scale dairy farmers, so I know the challenges farmers face. That’s why it’s been so exciting to see 60,000 farmers—many of them women—now using our DigiCow apps to become more profitable and productive. With this new support from Heifer International, I’m confident we can expand our reach to help small-scale dairy farmers across the continent.” - Peninah Wanja, co-founder of Nairobi-based DigiCow