Revolutionising Dairy Farming in East Africa Through Artificial Insemination (AI) Shield

In many parts of Africa, agriculture is a major source of social and economic development to millions of home. According to the World Bank, agriculture accounts for one-third of Gross-Domestic Product (GDP) and three-quarters of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2050, the apex bank believes that agriculture will continue to be one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boosting shared prosperity and feeding 9 billion people around the world.

Last month (March, 2016), Global Good (a collaboration between Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures) signed a three-year manufacturing and distribution agreement with Worthington Industries for the AI (Artificial Insemination) Shield, a proprietary cold chain technology solution that protects frozen bull semen from adverse thermal fluctuations; contributing to an increased likelihood of conception by artificial insemination and an overall herd growth for almost nine (9) million cattle farmers in East Africa.

Rural Reporters recently caught up with Manan Shukla, the Associate Commercialisation Lead at Global Good, Intellectual Ventures. Manan Shukla focuses on commercialising the technologies that the IV Laboratory develops. In this report, he shares how AI Shield will impact the lives of dairy farmers in East Africa and global world.

Why is AI Shield essential for dairy farmers?

In 2014, our collaborator, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, identified that the growth of artificial insemination (AI) in the developing world has been hampered by low conception rates.  Global Good (GG) embarked on innovating technologies that could improve AI outcomes.

When semen is accessed from a dewar/container, it is easy to inadvertently cause thermal fluctuations causing harmful and cumulative semen damage that leads to lower conception rates.  Damage happens fast, with 100% sperm death after one minute.

One study estimates that poor handling in the United States accounts for a 9% decrease in semen fertility.  The problem is worse in the developing world—primarily because training is less rigorous—leading to devastating consequences for farmers and artificial insemination programs alike.

The AI Shield is a simple, proprietary cold chain solution that protects frozen bull semen from adverse temperature fluctuations, resulting in an increased likelihood of AI conception success.

So far, what countries have AI Shield reached and what are your target markets?

In December 2015, Global Good signed a manufacturing and distribution agreement with Worthington Industries.  The deal will enable the AI Shield to be sold into East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi) by late Q3 this year.

Manan talking with local farmers on how they bring their products to market

How will AI Shield be distributed to farmers? More significantly, how can rural farmers access AI Shield?

AI Shield is a solution that is part of the dewar/containers that AI technicians use when visiting a farm to inseminate cattle.  The dewars, filled with liquid nitrogen, are used to keep the semen cold.  The farmer benefits from the increased possibility of conception.

As I mentioned, the AI Shield will be bought primarily by AI technicians whose job is to deliver inseminations to the farm.  Farmers will benefit from technicians who are using the AI Shield with improved conception rates.   For AI technicians, we are in the process of establishing a hub that will enable technicians to order the AI Shield.

How do you intend to monitor the growth process?

Working alongside our sales and distribution partners, Global Good will track the adoption of the AI Shield to assess the impact the technology is making.

What challenges do you expect to face and how do you intend to tackle potential problems?

Early challenges will be increasing awareness about the AI Shield to the technicians across East Africa.

Are there technical laid-down plans to educate farmers on how AI Shield will be used?

We plan to do a product launch in East Africa where we will invite the key AI stakeholders.  Additionally, the AI Shield is designed to be easy to use, requiring no behavioral changes by the technicians.

Artificial insemination is quite unpopular among farmers in Africa, how do you and your team hope to bridge the gap?

The growth of AI has been hampered by low conception rates.  Thus, we are confident that utilizing AI Shield will increase conception rates which will boost the popularity of AI in Africa.

Since users of AI Shield are largely uneducated rural farmers and AI Shield is tech-based, how does your organisation hope to bridge the perceived gap in the acceptance and usage?

The technicians who utilise the AI Shield will see no difference in how they deliver inseminations.  We designed the AI Shield to be easy to use requiring no additional user training.  In addition to the increased conception rates, AI Shield also minimizes the loss of liquid nitrogen.  These savings have a direct benefit to technician who can now spend less on liquid nitrogen.

How will it benefit farmers, especially those in the rural areas, especially small scale farmers?

Farmers will see increased conception rates from the technicians who are utilizing the AI Shield.

Aside from adding value to market growth, of what importance will it be to personal economic development?

The AI Shield has the potential to improve conception rates and reduce liquid nitrogen losses.  For technicians, this translates to improved incomes.  For farmers, successful AI will increase the income potential from higher milk production.

What should we expect from AI Shield in the future?

There will be an AI Shield product launch in East Africa in late Q3.  Global Good is also working on getting the AI Shield to other parts of the world.

 

Busayo Sotunde is a prolific writer with special focus on Business, Entrepreneurship, Reproductive Health and other development issues in Africa. Her articles have been published by different outlets including Investing Port and Ventures-Africa.com. She has a penchant for reading and sustainable development. Follow Busayo on Twitter @BusayomiSotunde

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