Village Livestock Promoters get new dairy data app to support smallholder buffalo farmers in Nepal
In early 2023, Julie Ojango, a senior scientist in the Livestock Genetics program at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), led a team to Sunsari, Nepal to field test the new Android-based Africa-Asia Dairy Genetic Gains (AADGG) dairy data application aimed to enhance milk production for smallholder buffalo farmers.
The AADGG-Dairy data app helps Village Livestock Promoters (VLPs) collect animal performance data to be synthesised and used to guide animal management at the farm level and livestock sector policy decisions at the national level.
A key highlight of the visit was the collaboration between two CGIAR initiatives—Digital Innovation (DI) and Sustainable Animal Productivity (SAPLING)—that resulted in the successful live testing of the AADGG dairy data app, expected to launch later this month.
Overview of the AADGG program within SAPLING
The AADGG/SAPLING program aims to improve the productivity and profitability of smallholder dairy systems by accelerating the rate of genetic improvement of dairy animals. To achieve genetic improvement, researchers must record animals’ performance over time to identify the best genetics for increasing productivity.
The collected performance data must be accurate, valid and scalable to link with a diversity of health, physical and socio-economic parameters. Data must be without gender, age or education level bias. Most importantly, data must be rapidly consolidated and shared back to the farmer to establish a partnership with both long- and short-term benefits to researchers and farmers.
AADGG/SAPLING has pioneered a novel approach that places near real-time data collection of dairy animal productivity into the hands of smallholder farmers. In several countries, including Nepal, AADGG/SAPLING is supporting the establishment of a national data platform that collates data on a dairy animal’s genetic merit under real-world conditions, linking improved productivity to global climate resilience and the ability to compare data across Africa and Asia.
The Digital Innovation initiative and developing the new AADGG-Dairy data app
The new AADGG dairy data app for Nepal is part of a suite of mobile-based apps co-designed by AADGG and the DI initiative to ease data capture and validation, tolerate poor connectivity in the field and provide rapid data summaries and feedback. Digitalization is necessary for real-time data collection. Using the app, livestock extension personnel visiting farmers intuitively follow a series of prompts to collect information on the farms and animals.
At registration, farmers provide their names and contact information that gets linked to their location details, automatically collected using GPS coordinates. Once a farm is registered, an extension service provider—VLP in Nepal, Performance Recording Agent in Tanzania and Ethiopia and Dairy Farm Assistant in Kenya—can register a farmer’s animals and monitor the animal’s performance using the app. Each registered farm and animal are provided with an identification number in line with the guidelines provided by their country’s national registration system.
AADGG/SAPLING extension service providers visit the farmers every month, documenting the management practices and milk production of registered dairy animals on each farm. The app has in-built quality checks and verifications to ensure that data collection on each animal is within the species’ biological norms and animal’s recorded age.
Data collected at the farm level through either Open Data Kit (ODK)-based tools or the new app are screened and transmitted to the main AADGG data platform, where data from all the farms are processed and used to guide the development of farmer-specific animal management advice. Providing feedback on data captured is a key advantage of the new app over the ODK interface, which cannot relay information back to the farmers.
As a new country for SAPLING interventions, Nepal provides a unique opportunity for testing the dairy data app and data tools’ ability to collate milk production and performance data on buffalo. Prior AADGG activities primarily used cattle data, but the new app expands AADGG data collection to buffaloes.
In Nepal, working with VLPs linked to dairy cooperatives and government extension personnel is a new concept that mirrors AADGG/SAPLING’s Dairy Farm Assistant model in Kenya. The Dairy Farm Assistant model was demonstrated to Nepali partners during an exchange visit to Kenya by leaders from the National Livestock Breeding Office and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council in December 2022.
The SAPLING initiative and live testing the new AADGG-Dairy data app
On the first day of the two-day training, the AADGG/SAPLING team along with key personnel from the National Buffalo Research Program Tarahara under the Nepal Agricultural Research Council held a workshop to introduce the new AADGG dairy data app. Workshop participants included 12 VLPs from different cooperatives selected for the AADGG/SAPLING program and 12 livestock technicians working in livestock service centres from the Koshi and Madhesh Provinces.
The VLPs were set-up with a prototype of the new app available for Android mobile phones. Then, the AADGG/SAPLING team took the VLPs through an interactive, live testing approach that used the app prototype to enter and send a practice data set to the centralised data platform. VLPs received demonstrations on how these summary statistics are obtained for benchmarking the performance and productivity of animals based on the quality of data received.
During the hands-on practical, the AADGG/SAPLING team and the DI initiative’s remotely located app developers worked together to promptly clarify the VLPs’ questions. VLPs were encouraged to provide constructive feedback to the app developers through a joint WhatsApp group. After the training, the developers worked overnight to address critical issues from the practice demonstration and make necessary improvements to the app for the following day’s field test.
On the second day of the training, the AADGG/SAPLING and the National Buffalo Research Program Tarahara team went to the field with the VLPs and government livestock technicians to collect real data using the improved AADGG-Dairy data app. The team continued to use a live testing approach with the DI app developers available online to respond in real-time to challenges that arose in the field.
The live testing approach enabled the virtual app developers to experience how VLPs work with farmers and their animals. At the same time, VLPs were engaged in providing suggestions to improve their user experience. They could see their suggestions being taken up and incorporated into the app.
The app provided immediate access to the data collected on animals, encouraging VLPs to implement the previous day’s training to use the livestock data to determine what kind of animal management advice they should provide farmers. VLPs found the AADGG-Dairy data app more user-friendly than previous ODK tools.
‘The new mobile app is a great entry point for engaging the next generation in providing livestock extension services. When talking to farmers, young VLPs can intuitively understand how to use the app to collect data and give advice on buffalo management,’ Ojango noted.
The interactive engagement between the team, the DI initiative app developers and the VLPs as end users in the process of refining and live testing enabled everyone to gain a better understanding of the potential and possible challenges of using the app in the field. Real-time availability of app developers in the field-testing phase enabled timely adaptation of the data collection tools to improve user efficiency.
Following the successful field test with the AADGG-Dairy data app prototype, a further optimized version of the app is expected to be launched in August 2023. Once the data capture and flow have been verified, the new application will be translated into the Nepali local languages.
Written by Madeline Wong, Julie Ojango, Varijakshapanicker Padmakumar (ILRI)