Between 2006 and 2007, Ghana witnessed an avian flu outbreak that threatened its poultry industry. The economic losses were significant, especially because livestock farming, and agriculture generally, employ 52% of the population. The outbreak led to the death of over 40,000 poultry birds and the destruction of infected eggs. It also affected the prices of poultry products and market activities for poultry feeds. Overall, the outbreak cost the country at least $26.3 million and almost wiped 99.88% of Ghana’s poultry stock.
One important lesson from this period is that early detection, veterinary services and vaccination are important measures to control outbreaks.
But with millions of farmers, mostly small scale farmers, scattered across the country, the logistics of providing veterinary services is somewhat challenging.
Cowtribe, a Tamale, Ghana-based startup wants to fix this problem. Founded in 2016, by Peter Awin and Alimah Bawah, the startup is using mobile technology to provide on-demand vaccine and veterinary services (vets) to farmers.
“Imagine us as an uber for vets,” Bawah told TechCabal in a recent interview.
The idea for the company was a very personal one, Bawah explained. “I and my cofounder both came out of livestock keeping families,” she revealed.
Growing up with her grandmother, Bawah reared a few chickens that helped to pay for her early education. But this meant their income was vulnerable to a disease outbreak. She once had to drop out of school when an outbreak killed these chickens.
Drawing from her experiences, she said: “Farmers who are relying on livestock for income have to bear the pain of losing this livestock because they cannot access vet services.”
“So in 2016, we started exploring a solution for this problem,” she said.
Cowtribe allows farmers to subscribe for veterinary services over the phone and creates a tailored schedule plan for each farmer. Working with professional vets, the startup identifies when a farmer needs certain services and sends a notification directly to their phones.
Cowtribe collects the location of farmers, the services they require, then it ships that order to partnering vets. In return for a commission, the vets deliver all customer orders and administer the vaccines to the farmer’s animals.
“We’re just like an intermediary,” Bawah said. “We are working through this commission basis for vets to deliver [services] and we pay them.”
Beyond vet services, the company also provides farmers with other agricultural support services. It provides them with information about farming best practices and sends them critical alerts regarding disease outbreaks and important weather patterns.
The startup is going after a potentially huge agriculture market. In Ghana alone, there are over 2 million smallholder farmers who need vet services, according to Bawah. While across Africa, only 15% of farmers have access to vet services, this low access is why the continent’s farmers lose around $3 billion annually to animal diseases.
“Our dream is to democratize animal healthcare services in Africa and make it more accessible,” she said.
Cowtribe makes its revenue in two ways. First, it provides a pay as you go model for farmers. At first, this was the company’s only revenue model and it allowed farmers to pay for services and medical supplies on delivery.
The second revenue model is a subscription plan. This model is new; it was introduced a few months ago. Farmers can subscribe to either a monthly, quarterly, or annual veterinary plan and have veterinary services delivered when they are needed. Subscription prices depend on the number of livestock units but it usually starts from $3.27. A livestock unit is made up of either one cow, ten goats or fifty chickens.
“If a farmer has a combination of livestock, it means that we’re going to calculate all these species and tell how much they pay per year,” Bawah said.
In the last three years, Cowtribe said it has grown its customer base to 31,000 farmers with 1,000 of them already signed up as paid subscribers. A large portion of its customers are local farmers, but the company says it has been adding commercial farmers in recent months. In July 2018, the startup won the Ghanaian leg of the Seedstars World Competition.
The company was one of 12 startups that pitched at the 2019 Seedstars Summit in Switzerland. And in November 2018, Cowtribe announced a $300,000 investment from the global impact investor, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. The investment will help fuel the startup’s growth in Ghana.