Livestock Guru cures cows

Researchers at the University of Reading have developed a multi-media programme for poor livestock farmers, based on a touch-sensitive computer screen which even those unable to read can use.

Known as the Livestock Guru, it teaches farmers how to diagnose, prevent and treat specific animal diseases.

Created by the University’s Livestock Development Group (LDG), the Livestock Guru computer programme responds to the specific needs of the most vulnerable groups in developing countries, helping them make the most of the livestock which is crucial to their survival.

The software was launched in the slums of Nairobi late last year following successful use in India and Bolivia. In each country, customised versions of the Livestock Guru programme have been tailored for their visual and linguistic requirements.

The Guru’s first public appearance was in India in 2004, helping poor households in Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu. In response to farmer-demand, an Oriya language version was launched in Orissa in May 2005 for more than 1,000 farmers. So far, around 3,000 households have made use of the programme. “El Promotor”, the Bolivian version, was launched in the high altitude, Altiplano region among poor Andean farmers, and has since been distributed to an estimated 5,600 households

The Livestock Guru technology – developed with funding by DFID – is distributed through local community based organizations, dairy and farmer associations.

Livestock are essential to the livelihoods of some two-thirds of those living on less than $2 a day. But, says Dr Claire Heffernan, Director of the LDG, “Our interviews with people in over 3,000 poor households on three continents showed that access to accurate and timely information about the livestock in their care was considered to be a major constraint to livelihood security”. These people “were not interested in handouts,” she reported, “their demand was simply for knowledge. And so, to address this need, the Livestock Guru programme was created.”

It is hoped that the Kenyan launch will build on the successes elsewhere. In Bolivia, researchers found that farmers using Guru showed up to a 44 per cent increase in basic knowledge about the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of important livestock diseases. This was a 10 per cent better response than from conventional media such as videos or written material.

“The Livestock Guru technology demonstrates that the poor are keen to adopt new technologies which they view as relevant to their needs,” said Dr Heffernan.