iCow – The African project tackling malnutrition and nutritional stunting

iCow is a remarkable and innovative programme which is working with African farmers to increase their productivity, safety and knowledge.

At a recent TED event, Kenyan entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of Green Dreams TECH Ltd, Su Kahumbu-Stephanou, spoke about the challenges facing many African societies; that of nutritional stunting.

In her talk, Kahumbu-Stephanou outlines the gradual and painful process which many young people endure when deprived of essential proteins and dietary elements. Highlighting the vital role in which dairy plays in the wellbeing and development of children in countries which face such issues, a solution is outlined.

iCow is a project which sends SMS messages to small farmers, advising them on health issues, practical animal management techniques and associated advice.

Kahumbu-Stephanou estimates that 59 million children struggle to meet their genetic potential. “Protein is one of our most important dietary requirements, and evidence shows that lack of essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in young children’s diets, can result in stunting,” she says, before elaborating on the importance of nurturing well-educated and capable farmers.

“Essential amino acids are called essential because we can’t synthesize them in our bodies. We have to get them from our foods and the best sources are animal-derived: milk, meat and eggs. Most protein consumed on the African continent is crop-based. And although we have millions of smallholder farmers rearing animals, livestock production is not as easy as we think. The big livestock gaps between rich countries and poor countries are due to poor animal health.Endemic livestock diseases, some of them transmissible to humans, threaten not only livestock producers in those poor countries, but all human health across all countries.”

The resulting programme, iCow, is described as a “comprehensive solution designed not only to support (farmers) with livestock and crop production but also to connect farmers to the vital players in their agricultural ecosystem,” and their reach is broad and effective. The programme has been running for some time now and is bringing about impressive results across the aforementioned ecosystem.

“These (connections) include input providers, agricultural financial service providers, veterinary experts, agricultural extension service providers, NGO’s, Govt and more! It is designed for the most basic feature phones and is available in differerent languages depending on the county of deployment. In Kenya and Tanzania it is available in English and Kiswahili, in Ethiopia in Oromiffo, Amharic and Tigringnia.”

Kahumbu-Stephanou opens her talk with a joke about how meat and dairy cattle “have been getting a lot of crap lately due to methane emissions and climate change,” but the seriousness of her mission soon becomes clear, resonant and very powerful indeed. Harnessing technology, education and passion, iCow is committed to improving the wellbeing of millions of African residents.

Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.