Digital Tools for Livestock: How Innovations in Nepal are Helping Producers Turn a Profit
Digital tools and technologies have an incredible capacity to improve nutrition and food security around the world. From farm production to post-harvest processing, digital tools can provide real-time agricultural data, deliver critical information to farmers, enhance agricultural extension capacity, and increase financial access and inclusion in agriculture.
In the rapidly evolving livestock sector, digital tools have the potential to boost both productivity and profitability for farmers and pastoralists. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, led by the University of Florida, advances digital innovations and services that can help livestock farmers unlock productivity gains and improve their livelihoods.
In Nepal, three digital tools show promise to strengthen Nepal’s livestock sector by empowering farmers to make better decisions that protect their livelihoods and improve food security. You can find these tools in the sidebar section of this post.
Using SMS to Improve Goat Trading
In Nepal, goats are an essential source of income, and many rural Nepali farming households own goats. To buy goats, traders often travel over rugged terrain and poor roads, making multiple visits to individual households to make sales. The high transaction costs can stifle the value chain and limit profitability. While cooperatives can reduce these transaction costs by allowing for bulk purchases of animals, they struggle to coordinate sales by members spread out over large areas. That’s where the Virtual Collection Center (VCC) comes in. The VCC is a short message service (SMS) mobile application that helps cooperative members and traders share price information, fill orders, and coordinate sales events. The app provides traders with critical information, saving them difficult trips and reducing transaction costs. By exchanging inventory information, cooperative leaders know instantly whether they can meet the demands of traders. By including agreed-upon prices, dates, and locations in sales event invitations, the VCC app also removes much of the uncertainty faced by goat buyers and sellers.
The VCC can help reduce risk in livestock production and help livestock producers in Nepal meet demand and grow their incomes through goat trading.
Getting Ahead of Diseases with Mobile Reporting
Livestock diseases cause significant economic loss in Nepal. Lack of outbreak information, limited capacity to control diseases, and poor road conditions that make it difficult for animal health workers to reach remote areas hinder livestock productivity and profitability for producers. Disease outbreaks can quickly spread from one community to the next, threatening large scale loss of livestock and reducing the availability of safe animal source foods.
For livestock producers in rural areas, the options are limited – they are either forced to wait long periods for vets, which may worsen the animal’s illness, travel long distances to veterinary clinics, losing time and income in the process, or receive treatment from community animal health workers, which may or may not cure the animal.
A smartphone app for livestock disease reporting has offered Nepali farmers a better choice. Members of remote communities report livestock diseases to a lead woman “sentry” who uses the app to upload disease symptoms, an image of the sick animal, and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates to a server. A veterinarian reviews them, diagnoses the disease and, if needed, notifies local authorities to act.
This method of rapid detection and control helped prevent an outbreak of hemorrhagic septicemia, an acute and fatal bacterial disease of cows and buffalo, from becoming an epidemic. During the two months it was tested, the app almost doubled disease reporting and improved grass-roots level disease surveillance.
For livestock producers, detecting and managing disease outbreaks early is often the key to a secure livelihood. The app is doubly important for consumers, who rely on producers to supply safe and uncontaminated disease-free livestock products.
Boosting Farmer Incomes with Smart Nutrition
While the dairy sector is a major contributor to Nepal’s economy and comprises 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the milk yield from Nepal’s dairy cows and buffalo is low. The sector has unmet potential, and the government has identified dairy as one of the most promising agriculture sub-sectors, with the potential to increase milk yields from about 900 liters/cow/year to 3,000 liters/cow/year. To achieve this goal, dairy animals will need to be adequately fed. In Nepal, dairy animal feed varies with location and herd size but is mainly crop residues such as rice straw and maize stover, grasses and or forages, with varying amounts of concentrate or byproduct supplementation. This feed is often inadequate and doesn’t meet the nutritional demands of dairy animals, reducing milk production and robbing producers of profits.
In response, farmers have a new tool they can use for smart feeding. The Feeding Support Tool is a mobile app that helps producers formulate low-cost, nutritionally balanced rations for dairy cattle and buffalo with locally available feed ingredients.
An animal feeding trial showed that using the app increased milk yield by cows and buffalo by 15 percent in just one month, and of farmers who tried the app, 94 percent reported an increase in milk yields. By better addressing the nutritional requirements of dairy animals, farmers may reduce feeding costs, decrease feed waste, and reduce environmental pollution. Most importantly, producers generated more income from improved livestock and animal-source food sales.
A thriving livestock sector is a vital part of Nepal’s efforts to combat food insecurity, improve nutrition, and increase profitability for farmers. To meet these goals, certain progressive livestock producers are embracing digital tools and approaches, making data-driven decisions, and sharing more information than ever before. These digital advancements will help increase the profitability of the livestock sector and enhance its sustainability and competitiveness.