Connecting vets and farmers in Bangladesh3 min read . Updated: 03 Sep 2015, 01:40 AM IST
A mobile app aims to decentralize the role of veterinarians and make their services available to all farmers in need
An innovative application from Bangladesh is bringing expensive veterinarians to the mobile screens of livestock owners at a low cost.
The Livestock Management System (LMS) is a smartphone app used by livestock farmers in remote areas. The app’s main purpose is delivering affordable cattle health services by registering farmers and their cattle.
“The reason we started this service is because we found that there are very few veterinarians in Bangladesh, and for poor farmers, it is extremely difficult to afford their services," said Mridul Chowdhury, founder and chief executive officer, mPower Social Enterprises Ltd. The app’s function, he said, was to decentralize the role of veterinarians and make their services available to all farmers in need.
Once registered, the system provides unique IDs for farmers and their cattle. A livestock worker then makes scheduled visits every month to the registered farmer’s household.
These follow-ups check changes in health, production and rearing management. The system uses a combination of Bengali and English to collect information. The mobile app is in Bengali, which is used at the field level, while the Web interface is in English, as it is used by veterinarians and managers.
Livestock workers are entrepreneurs commonly known as para-vet. They generally gain experience in livestock management by working with the smallholder livestock rearing community. They arrange de-worming and vaccination camps, provide advice on feeding and breeding practices, and provide information about on-call treatment services. “We take local unemployed, educated youth and then work as intermediaries between the vet and the farmers," said Chowdhury.
Again, if any cattle falls sick, the livestock worker visits the household immediately and gathers relevant information. Based on this information, the veterinarian can respond immediately by providing treatment or refer the owner to the nearest veterinary hospital. This referral is received by the livestock worker as a prescription through the smartphone app. The Web user has the option of scheduling an on-demand visit by the livestock worker in order to ensure the good health of the cattle.
LMS is directly assisting the livelihood and food security of rural farmers. It won an mBillionth award in the agriculture and ecology category this year.
For many families in Bangladesh, owning one or two cows is the primary source of income. If the cow is better managed, the family’s income increases. This naturally leads to the betterment of the farmer’s socioeconomic status. The system cuts the cost of livestock farming as a veterinarian monitors livestock forwarded from multiple workers and provides animal husbandry advice to keep the animals healthy. This reduces the chance of sickness by preventive rather than corrective action.
Also, the cost is much lower than attending a vet physically. This, on the other hand, can assist in improving the nutrition status of the family through improved production of milk and leaving more for the family members to consume.
Again, women of farming households are mostly engaged with livestock rearing. When a woman is farming profitably, she is recognized by the society and empowered. Further, as using the system helps in generating increased income for each livestock worker, it can encourage the unemployed rural youth to take up livestock work as a profession. The livestock worker can help make their business sustainable and grow.
The app developers observed during project implementation that there was an increase in the income of workers delivering livestock services through LMS. This increase in monthly income ranged between $24 to $75 and can be attributed to the monthly subscription fee paid by farmers and increased subscriptions.
At optimal capacity, one veterinarian can serve 10 livestock workers. Again, each of the livestock workers can serve 200 cattle per month. For providing this service, the livestock worker shares 25% of his monthly income with the expert veterinarian. This adds up to $650 from 10 livestock workers and the monthly operational expenses are $620 for one veterinarian. Additionally, the system generates revenue of $150-200 from in-app advertisements. Thus, the system manages to break even in terms of cost and shows potential to soon become profitable.
Initial funding for this project was contributed jointly by Shiree, an extreme poverty eradication programme in Bangladesh, and mPower Social Enterprises. Further expansion of the project across districts is jointly funded by Rural Development Academy and mPower Social Enterprises.
Considering that India too is a country with a large cattle population, a service app such as LMS has a large market waiting to be tapped. “Currently, the application is working in several districts of Bangladesh and we’ve started this only a few months ago. We are still figuring out a lot of things but as soon as we have a solidified business model, we shall begin rapid expansion," said Chowdhury.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth and Manthan awards.