Deep in the remote village of Amach, Lira district in Northern Uganda, Grace made up her mind to embark on farming, not only as something that could bring her extra income, but something to retire into while at the same time improving on the nutrition at home. Having worked in the civil service for more than twenty years, retirement was fast approaching and she did not want to go out unprepared, but she did not also want to do crop farming as the climate is so unpredictable. With her savings, she bought one dairy cow and enlisted the support of the local veterinary officer to help set up the Kraal as well as give her advice on how to take care of cows. Today as I write, one year later, this lady dairy farmer has eight cows, having lost one calf to some strange disease and an overdose.
But how did she get there in just one year?
Farming is not easy, so we have been told and seen many times most especially in rural Africa. The crop failure rate is high, how to access basic knowledge among farmers about the right time to plant, what inputs and where to get them is limited. In addition, government extension services are becoming more and more scare. Even if one had access to services from an extension officer, calling them through the mobile telephone will not guarantee that the extension officer will come. And that is what happened when Grace’s calf died. That morning Grace had spent quite a bit of time making endless calls to the vet doctor. The day before the calf had been treated and overdosed, by the very Vet doctor she was now desperately trying to call, and she could clearly see the calf ailing before her very eyes. But the Vet doctor did not come and she lost the calf.
Dairy farming is not common among small holder farmers in Uganda, a farmer may keep a cow or two, some few goats and chicken, but many do not go predominantly into dairy farming. It is therefore easy to understand why veterinary services are scare and why one may have to walk long distances before they can get service. In Uganda, getting the services are very expensive and much of it is offered privately. Part of the reason vet services are scarce could be attributed to the decentralization process in Uganda, when many professionals including the vet doctors were appointed as local administrators in the district governance systems. Others opted for private service because of the poor pay in government.
So what should young dairy farmers like Grace do?
What Grace did was to get a young agriculturalist to work side by side with her and she also got some seasoned cattle keepers who have indigenous knowledge in cattle keeping. But despite this she will still need professional vet advice. To overcome some of these shortcomings, some enterprising people have come up with mobile applications to support the extension service. For example for livestock, some applications like the iCow a comprehensive agricultural platform, developed for small scale farmers, accessible by mobile phone and the web can be used by farmers like Grace to get information on how to handle their cows. This system tracks each cow individually and allows the farmers to maintain all relevant information specific to each cow. http://www.icow.co.ke/. But for farmers like Grace, who have never even heard of such a thing, need to be informed of available options to extension services including mobile and e- extension. Such access to knowledge would assist in resolving minor issues when the physical veterinary doctors are not available.
Grace is not your everyday woman nor is she your everyday farmer, Grace is a religiously leader in her community, a women leader and sometimes is invited to radio talk shows at the local FM station. In addition, she works in the judicial service system as an administrator. She is therefore an influential person in the community and many people would benefit from such initiatives in the local community. When the cows started calving, she started to get milk initially first for her family and is now supplying her neighborhood with fresh milk. She also employs three casual workers, therefore giving employment and skills to other people in the community. Perhaps with time and if she joins networks of other dairy farmers, she will be able to learn and make more dairy products beyond the fresh milk.