Thwarting Senegal’s cattle rustlers using mobile phones

Cattle heading for home Senegal's cows don't spend their days chewing the cud on a postage stamp of grass - they roam

"This is our concern. When it comes to raising cattle it's our job, when you're born you see your father doing it, it represents everything to us."

Technology of Business

Abdoul Ba is a farmer.

He has lived here in Djilor, the tiny village where he was born, for all of his 56 years. Like 70% of the population of Senegal, he raises cattle.

But these are more than cows.

For Mr Ba and his family they are livelihood, larder, wealth, status and retirement fund. They are everything.

It is a common story across Africa. So when those animals are stolen, some families are left in such dire circumstances that cases of suicide are not unheard of.

Fiona Graham speaks to the farmers of Djilor about cattle theft

The last time the cattle rustlers struck, Mr Ba lost seven animals. He was lucky. About 120 were taken that night.

"It was very hard for us but we had to accept it. They were stolen when they were returning to the field after drinking here at home," he says.

"We looked for months with the help of neighbours, we looked in all the districts and villages around, and we didn't find them. We decided in despair that we had lost them."

Abdoul Ba Farmer Abdoul Ba says he knows of at least three people who have killed rustlers trying to steal their cattle
Mr Ba's family Mr Ba lives in a compound with the rest of his extended family in the heart of Djilor
A boy walks his cows to pasture These cows are the lucky ones - they sleep in the village rather than tethered in distant pastures
Follow the herd

In a country that relies heavily on agriculture - an estimated 490bn CFA francs ($1bn, £592m) of livestock roam the countryside - this is a problem that goes beyond individual families to the industry as a whole.

And it is something the government, not just the cattle farmers, wants to stamp out.

Amadou Sow Amadou Sow had the original idea for Daral

After taking a class in computers, Amadou Sow realised: "The problems that the farmers face could be solved by technology."

So he decided to go to Dakar and talk to the people at Microsoft about his idea, and see if they would help. They decided they probably could.

This was the seed from which Daral - which means "cattle market" in the Wolof language - grew. The application is a collaboration between Microsoft 4Afrika, non-governmental organisation Coders4Africa, and a team of young developers.

You won't find many high-speed internet connections in the middle of rural Senegal, so it relies heavily on mobile phone technology.

Mobile phone mast Mobile phone ownership is ever-increasing in sub-Saharan Africa - there are masts even in the most rural of areas

"If you take 10 African people... three have computers, but if you take the same 10 we have 10 African people with 10 mobiles," says Coders4Africa's Leger Djiba.

"We are sure that the best way to give information, to deliver information, is using mobile."

The application is designed to gather livestock data for the Senegalese ministry of livestock, with the aim of protecting cattle from theft and monitoring their health.

Animals are registered on a web-based application, which generates a unique number, and a photo can be uploaded with a description. In the field, project representatives connect laptops to the web using a mobile broadband dongle.

If the animal should fall victim to rustlers, the farmer can then contact police and have a region-wide SMS alert sent out using his basic mobile handset.

Healthy returns
Mamadou Dia Livestock agent Mamadou Dia says higher rainfall has increased some livestock diseases

"The farmers often don't respond to the vaccination campaigns," says livestock inspector Mamadou Dia.

"The response is really insufficient, insignificant.

"You'll go and see the head of the village, the PRCs [presidents of the rural communities] and the boss of the cattle herders, tell them about it, but the day of the campaign, the farmers don't come."

Meeting under the tree Talking shop: Many local farmers feel something should have been done about cattle theft before now

So text messages are sent to remind the farmers. If an animal falls sick the farmer can in turn send a message describing symptoms and ask for help.

Since May, just over 2,000 farmers in the pilot districts of Fatick and Kaolak have signed up to the programme.

Seynabou Ndoye-Sène Microsoft's Seynabou Ndoye-Sene took Mr Sow's idea and found people to make it work

Finding out what the farmers actually want from such a system has been an important part of the development process, its developers say.

"You go, you get feedback and you come back and you modify things," says Projet Daral's Mansour Fall.

"You don't just create the whole software and then say, 'Okay here it is now.' As you build it you get feedback and you modify and you go along,"

The next stage involves being able to track individual cows by implanting radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that can be read with a handheld scanner.

Around 2,000 chips have been shipped, with a further 10,000 on the way.

Mobile phone with Daral alert Farmers do not need to be literate to use Daral - they can use a series of numeric commands

"We did not want to have tags on the animals because usually the tags are done on the ear of the animal, like an earring," says Microsoft's Seynabou Ndoye-Sene.

"Then the thief cuts the ear - we did not want the animals to be mutilated."

Early indications are the project may be acting as a deterrent, as none of the farmers involved in the trial have had cattle stolen. It remains to be seen if that will continue to be the case.

Other changes are being made to dissuade would-be cattle rustlers.

The justice department of Senegal has doubled prison sentences for livestock theft to 5-10 years, something farmers have lobbied for for some time.

Virtual veg

Not everyone relies on livestock in Senegal - arable farming is massively important, too.

Marche Kermel mLouma serves farmers who live far from busy urban marketplaces such as Dakar's Marche Kermel
bags of onions The first product on mLouma's marketplace was onions

Aboubacar Sidy Sonko's parents are farmers. So when France Telecom launched a competition for young developers, he used their experience as inspiration.

The result, mLouma, is an online produce marketplace that has already won multiple awards in Africa and beyond.

Aboubacar Sidy Sonko Aboubacar Sidy Sonko in his Dakar office at the CTIC incubator

It provides a secure way for farmers to sell their produce directly to buyers in the cities at market price, rather than being short-changed by visiting produce buyers.

Goods to sell are uploaded by SMS or through a mobile app, so expensive equipment is not necessary.

"We know that around 70% of Senegalese work in agriculture. They are making very good things, products of quality," says Mr Sidy Sonko.

"But they are in places where they are invisible. The second problem is intermediaries who offer producers low prices. In the face of this, technology gives farmers the ability to have people in Dakar, in Paris, anywhere, see what they are doing."

Having started with onion farmers, the company is now expanding and working out better ways for their producers to get their goods to buyers.

Gathering at dusk to talk before preparing for evening prayers in Djilor Gathering at dusk to talk before preparing for evening prayers in Djilor

Now is the time for Senegal's start-ups to look to agriculture, Mr Sidy Sonko says.

"There is a real potential; we think it's the moment for people to use technology to help those at the bottom of the pyramid," he says. "The impact is the growth of the producers' income. It's a considerable impact.

Omar Ba Djilor's PCR - or president - Omar Ba

"There needs to be lots of solutions like mLouma here in Senegal," he adds.

Back in Djilor, the farmers there may well agree. As they gather just before dusk under a large tree in front of the village mosque, the talk is of a simple question of survival.

"It's very serious because it raises a lot of concern for your family. It's really hard to lose your cattle, after great expectations you just realise that you lost everything and it's really difficult to face," says village president Omar Ba.

"So when you lose it you really feel it. It can transform your life."

More on This Story

Technology of Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    13:00: Greek bailout
    Tsipras

    Greek PM Alexis Tsipras wants to issue short-term debt to plug his government's financing gap and has warned the ECB of the dangers of trying to stop him. "Then it will be back to the thriller we saw before February 20," he told Germany's Der Spiegel, referring to the date Greece agreed a four-month bailout extension with the eurozone. "The ECB has still got a rope round our neck," Tsipras added.

     
  2.  
    12:44: Uganda World Service
    Kampala

    The World Bank's director for Uganda has told Business Update on the World Service that fast-growing Kampala could become a slum if the government fails to invest in infrastructure. Philippe Dongier says Africa should learn from the urbanisation that happened in Asia 20 or 30 years ago. It's a question of aiming to be more like Bangkok than Lagos, he adds. Catch Business Update on Audioboom.

     
  3.  
    12:31: Mike Ashley
    Mike Ashley

    Not so fast... The Scottish affairs committee would like to know exactly what commitments Mike Ashley has "throughout the entirety of March which are preventing him from appearing before the committee before the dissolution of Parliament on 31 March". These are invitations you cannot really refuse, after all.

     
  4.  
    12:15: Taking the biscuit?
    Gary Linekar

    United Biscuits boss Martin Glenn - the man who came up with using Gary Lineker to flog Walkers Crisps, according the Daily Telegraph - has been appointed chief executive of the Football Association. Oxford-educated Mr Glenn, 54, is a former Leicester City director and a Wolverhampton Wanderers season ticket holder.

     
  5.  
    12:01: Irish mortgage arrears

    However, the number of homeowners behind in mortgage payments for more than two years increased by 0.8%. That was the slowest increase to date - but almost half of the 78,699 customers in financial distress for more than 90 days have now fallen behind in the mortgage repayment for more than two years.

     
  6.  
    11:48: Greek banks
    Greek bank

    Greece's central bank chief, Yannis Stournaras, says Greek banks have sufficient capital and face no problem with deposit outflows. "There is full support for Greek banks [from the ECB] - there is absolutely no danger," he said after meeting with Alexis Tsipras. Move along, nothing to see here...

     
  7.  
    11:29: Noisy Japanese children
    Japanese kids

    It's a bit of a slow news day, so a story on FT.com has caught our eye. For years Tokyo has had a strict 45-decibel noise limit - library levels in short - in its suburbs, but is considering changing it because of... noisy children. Some residents are complaining loudly because noisy kids affect property values, apparently. But it is this quote that really says a great deal about Japan: "Children should be taught to speak and sing at an appropriate volume, and age four is old enough to understand that," said one Tokyo resident.

     
  8.  
    11:12: Irish mortgage arrears

    Ireland's slow recovery in the property market continues to trundle along. The number of Irish households in mortgage arrears for more than 90 days fell to 10.4% the three months to December, down from 11.2% in the previous quarter, Ireland's central bank has said. That's the lowest level since March 2012.

     
  9.  
    10:48: Co-op hires Wilko's Ellis

    The Co-operative Group is hiring Ian Ellis as chief financial officer. He joins from retailer Wilko, where he has the same role.

     
  10.  
    10:32: Currencies

    Sterling slipped against the dollar ahead of the monthly US unemployment figures out at 1330 GMT, down 0.2% to $1.5208. Richard Falkenhall, currency strategist at SEB, said: "This election is very uncertain ... we think the uncertainty created will see sterling lose ground and forecast sterling/dollar to drop below $1.50 in coming months."

     
  11.  
    10:17: Eurozone economy
    euros

    The eurozone economy gathered pace in the last three months of 2014, with Eurostat confirming its earlier estimate of 0.3% growth compared with the three months to September 30 and a 0.9% expansion compared with the same period in 2013. Germany's economy grew by 0.7% quarter-on-quarter, while France managed just 0.1%.

     
  12.  
    10:04: Mike Ashley
    Mike Ashley

    Mike Ashley is a very busy man. Too busy for the entire month of March, it seems, to appear before MPs on the Scottish Affairs committee, who want to ask Mr Ashley about the treatment of workers at the USC fashion chain owned by his Sports Direct. Fortunately chairman Keith Hellawell is able to make the time, though. The MPs would still like to know why Mr Ashley is unavailable during March.

     
  13.  
    09:43: Japan shares

    Japan's Nikkei 225 shares index closed at a 15-year high earlier on the ECB's upward revision for eurozone economic growth and the announcement that it would begin bond buying on Monday. The index rose 1.2% to close at 18,971.

     
  14.  
    09:26: Greece
    Athens

    Greece has paid the first €310m (£223m) instalment of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan that falls due this month. The government must pay a total of €1.5bn to the IMF this month over two weeks starting today. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras is reported to have asked for a meeting with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker about the payments.

     
  15.  
    09:09: Eurozone bonds

    Government bond yields in Portugal, Italy and Spain fell to new record lows on Friday, a day after the ECB gave details of its bond-buying plans. Portuguese 10-year yields fell 12 basis points to 1.7%, while Italian and Spanish equivalents fell 5 points to 1.28% and 1.19% respectively. The ECB starts buying government bonds on Monday in a bid to boost growth in the eurozone.

     
  16.  
    Thomas Cook Via Twitter

    Dominic Walsh of The Times tweets: Question is whether, as with Club Med, Fosun has longer-term aim to use minority stake in Thomas Cook as basis for eventual full bid @walshdominic

     
  17.  
    08:47: Market update

    The FTSE 100 Index is 8 points lower at 6,953. Shares in Weir Group are the biggest riser this morning on speculation that the engineering firm may be a bid target following a recent slump in its share price.

     
  18.  
    08:31: Thomas Cook
    Thomas Cook

    Fosun, a Chinese investment firm, has bought a 5% stake in Thomas Cook for £91.9m and plans to increase its holding further. The move follows its purchase of French resort operator Club Med last month. Shares in Thomas Cook have soared 16% higher to 140p.

     
  19.  
    08:17: RBS shares

    Just worth point out that RBS shares are trading at 376.9p and the government needs to sell its stake at an average of 455p per share just to break even on the money it pumped into the bank in 2008 and 2009. Also worth mentioning: Mr Osborne may not be Chancellor after May.

     
  20.  
    08:03: RBS shares
    RBS

    George Osborne has told the Financial Times he made a mistake in not radically restructuring taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland soon after he came to office in 2010. But the chancellor says he would like to proceed "as quickly as we can to get rid of it" after the general election.

     
  21.  
    07:50: AGA profits

    AGA says operating profit stood at £9.6m, but it booked £4.1m in pensions charges, £3.3m in fair value costs relating to its stake in Fired Earth - its tiles business - leaving it with £2.2m. But that's before £1.5m in net interest charges on its pensions deficit, which doubled in the year from £35m to £72m. That brought pre-tax profits down to just £700,000, and left AGA in no position to pay a dividend. But the company does expect market conditions to improve this year.

     
  22.  
    07:39: Vodafone
    The Hoff

    Vodafone has announced a plan to introduce a mandatory minimum maternity policy in all 30 countries in which it operates. By the end of 2015, all female employees will be offered at least 16 weeks fully paid maternity leave, as well as full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after they return to work. David Hasselhoff, however, will not be eligible.

     
  23.  
    07:27: AGA profits
    AGA Rangemaster

    AGA Rangemaster has reported a slight fall in an annual pre-tax profit to £700,000, compared with £1.1m a year earlier. It has also announced it will not be paying a dividend to shareholders.

     
  24.  
    DFS shares Via Twitter

    Retail analyst Nick Bubb tweets: The Chairman of DFS trumpets that it stands for "Dedication, Family and Success". Or Dull Furniture Sale? ;-) @NickBubb1

     
  25.  
    07:15: DFS shares
    DFS

    Buy one, get one half price! Furniture retailer DFS has priced shares at 255p - at the lower end of expectations. The stock starts trading at 0800 today and means the company will be valued at close to £550m.

     
  26.  
    07:02: Eurozone outlook BBC Radio 4

    One thing that may help the eurozone economy is a small but significant accomplishment by the ECB that appears to have gone largely unnoticed. That was last Autumn's asset quality review of the banks, by the ECB which "gave pretty much everybody a clean bill of help", says Mr Cameron Watt. "And that's allowing banks to sell assets off their balance sheets."

     
  27.  
    Greek economy Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    Former Greek shipping minister @MVarvitsiotis tells #WUTM "we'll do whatever it takes...to stay in Eurozone...leaving would be a disaster" @AdamParsons1

     
  28.  
    06:47: Eurozone outlook BBC Radio 4
    Draghi

    Mr Cameron Watt tells Today: "There is a following wind which is the lower oil price and the material decline in the currency [euro] against the dollar". He says those factors should help boost the eurozone economy, although he he sceptical that it will do as well as ECB president Mario Draghi (pictured) suggested at his press conference on Thursday.

     
  29.  
    06:35: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4
    The EURO logo is pictured in front of the former headquarter of the European Central Bank

    We're talking quantitative easing (QE) on the Today programme and why it pushes up stock markets. And Ewan Cameron Watt, global chief investment strategist at BlackRock, explains in the most clear terms. It is all about portfolio substitution, of course. "If I buy a whole lot of bonds and give you cash, you have now have to invest that cash," he says. "You don't want to buy bonds because of [current] negative yields, so it forces you to buy riskier assets, which inflates the prices of things like equities." Simples.

     
  30.  
    06:25: Alpacas! Radio 5 live
    Alpacas

    Let's face it - alpacas are a bit weird. But farming the cuddly critters appears to appeal to some who want to escape the rat race, alpaca farmer Mary-Jo Smith tells Wake Up to Money. She says alpaca wool is strong, luxurious and "just amazing to wear". The British Alpaca Society holds its annual show in Telford this weekend.

     
  31.  
    06:15: Insurers v banks Radio 5 live

    Aviva shares ended 7% higher yesterday and Ewen Cameron Watt, chief investment strategist at BlackRock, tells Wake Up to Money it is no surprise that insurers are doing better than banks. He says operating conditions for banks are getting tougher, but some insurers are opting to join forces.

     
  32.  
    06:05: Rangers FC
    A general view of the Ibrox Stadium, in Glasgow,

    It's a big day for Rangers FC as the club holds an emergency meeting where Dave King hopes to oust the board. However, there are question marks over King - who wants to become chairman - because of his convictions in South Africa for tax offences.

     
  33.  
    06:03: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Happy Friday everyone. Don't forget you can get in touch by email at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or via twitter @bbcbusiness.

     
  34.  
    06:00: It's Friday Chris Johnston Business Reporter

    Good morning and welcome to the last day of the working week. US unemployment figures are set to dominate the day and are out at 13:30. We'll bring you the reaction to those numbers and all the day's other business news as well.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.