Small Farmer Support
In rural parts of the developing world, livestock and agriculture are integral parts of how a family survives and accumulates wealth. Because of this, the health and productivity of its animals and crops are directly related to the health and wellbeing of the family, and an increase in animal productivity translates to improved income and health.
In February 2011, DFA was awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to leverage our patterned paper-based diagnostic technology platform to develop diagnostics to improve farmer incomes in sub-Saharan Africa. Our low-cost diagnostics will enable farmers to reduce loss, optimize production, and verify quality – enabling them to demand higher prices. As part of this project, we are currently developing three diagnostics:
- Bovine pregnancy and heat detection – Early detection of pregnancy would save the farmer money by reducing the costs of unnecessary inseminations and improving milk production. The current standard for pregnancy detection is rectal palpation, which requires training, is not reliable until later in the pregnancy, and has a risk of injury for the examiner and examinee. Additionally, traditional methods for detecting heat rely on behavioral changes that often are not apparent in small herds on small farms where the cows do not have much space to roam and interact.
Our test will allow minimally trained community veterinary workers to accurately test for pregnancy and heat, all from a minimally invasive sample earstick or milk at a cost of pennies per test.
- Milk spoilage – Even in countries with developed dairy industries like Kenya, small-scale dairy farmers produce the majority of the milk, most of which is sold through local cooperatives to the milk-products industry. Milk from individual farmers is pooled, chilled, and then shipped to processing plants. Contamination of one batch can spoil the entire pool of milk and depress the prices that processors are willing to pay. We are developing a rapid test made out of paper that will test each batch of milk for bacterial contamination.
A rapid contamination detection test used prior to pooling will reduce the risk of spoiling an entire shipment and quickly identify the farms whose cows may have infections, such as mastitis, that require attention.
- Aflatoxin detection from maize – Aflatoxin, a toxin produced by mold, can develop during the production, harvest, or storage of maize or other crops and is toxic to both humans and farm animals, causing hepatitis and possibly liver cancer. Children exposed to aflatoxin may become stunted, underweight, and more susceptible to infectious diseases in childhood and later in life. Although rapid, portable detection tests are available, their cost is prohibitive for widespread and frequent use in many areas.
A locally-manufactured, ultra-low cost diagnostic would enable farmers to test their maize as needed to maximize the price they receive from buyers (once their grain is proven to be of high quality) and encourage better storage of maize.