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 heat (estrus)
detection – 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. Early detection of heat would save the farmer money by
reducing the costs of unnecessary inseminations and improving milk
Our test will allow minimally trained community veterinary workers to
accurately test for 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
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
- 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.