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Smartphone app is improving sustainable cattle farming in Ethiopia


The issue

Inaccessibility to veterinary services in Ethiopia’s livestock sector

Ethiopia has one of the most significant livestock populations in Africa. Cattle represent one of the country’s largest segments of this population, with roughly 50 million animals. However, although livestock and their by-products account for almost 20% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product — and directly contribute to the livelihoods of 75% of Ethiopian families — productivity in this sector is among the lowest on the continent.

This untapped potential is exacerbated by major gaps in access to veterinary services. The lack of trained personnel and diagnostic expertise in remote communities results in endemic diseases going undiagnosed and untreated.

The solution

Supporting the creation of the VetAfrica smartphone app

The growth of telecommunications infrastructure in the Global South, specifically access to low-cost smartphones, offers new opportunities to use innovative applications of digital technologies to address development challenges. For example, smartphone applications are helping to disseminate extension services to under-served communities.

IDRC supported the research and development of a mobile health app through a small grants program that sought to strengthen Canadian-based organizations that produce innovative research for development in collaboration with peers in developing countries. The app addresses the lack of veterinary knowledge for diagnosing and treating cattle in rural Ethiopia. The research was led by a team from the University of Prince Edward Island and peers based at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture at Addis Ababa University. Together, they used cloud-based service Microsoft Azure to develop the VetAfrica-Ethiopia (VAE) app, a commercial-grade application operating on the Android and Mobile Windows platforms.

To date, VAE has supported the collection and management of information relating to roughly 2,000 cattle cases from more than 20 rural centres throughout Ethiopia — enough to build a comprehensive database of cases from which the app can draw more effective diagnoses. Its accuracy was tested through the participation of veterinarians who studied these cases in parallel during the pilot phase.

In more than 80% of instances for certain diseases, the veterinarians’ diagnoses matched those of the app. Other services were also made available through the platform, including information about recommended treatments and support services to find nearby veterinarians.

For users, the VAE app has proven to be an effective method to quickly obtain a diagnosis and seek treatment for sick animals. In the Ethiopian context, the app helped cattle owners acquire technical knowledge, make more informed decisions, and improve the diagnosis of diseases among their herd, ultimately improving their livelihoods.

The data collected with VAE also produced encouraging results for improving the availability of passive surveillance data — data that is reported on a regular basis to monitor disease patterns and identify possible outbreaks — to a wider range of public health administrators.

The future

Scaling potential and socioeconomic impacts of the VAE app

Results have demonstrated that using the VAE app can effectively aid disease diagnosis for cattle in a variety of rural Ethiopian settings. It can greatly improve the timeliness, level of detail collected, and data integrity to ultimately reduce the cost of veterinary care and improve the socioeconomic wellbeing of rural cattle farmers in Ethiopia.

To make this innovation more widely available to users, the next steps will involve developing plans for successfully commercializing the application, including forging partnerships with key public agencies and ministries, as well as potential industrial partners.

Already, a follow-on project to further validate the results of the VAE tool and extend its use into other areas, such as the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance levels, has been funded by the Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute. This project will also seek to partner with a local software development company to complete the app’s localization and effectively transfer the technology.