News Column

JKUAT clicks way to first indigenous poultry databank

July 9, 2014

SARAH OOKO -1



Indigenous chickens that roam freely in homesteads are a favourite of many people on health grounds and taste. Their meat and eggs are irresistible and are more expensive than products from the exotic types.

Despite these benefits, chicken farmers, mainly in rural areas, are faced with disease challenges that silently force them to close shop after incurring huge losses. In addition, the low productivity of these poultry with regard to meat and egg yields hurts food security and income generation.

Now, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT), in a partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service, has embarked on a research project using the latest technology to help the market understand poultry better.

The study that started early last year is focusing on physical characteristics, genes and environments of these poultry and the data will lead to the breeding of indigenous poultry that are resistant to diseases, more productive and drought-tolerant.

JKUAT has developed an application that creates questionnaires using an Open Data Kit (ODK) present in smart phones that run on Android operating system. The tool developed by Philip Oyier, a member of the team, stores questionnaires, transfers the data to a central server at university and detects irregular responses from the field.

Dr Sheila Ommeh, a research scientist at JKUAT, is leading the project, which she says will provide information "to determine varieties of indigenous poultry mainly chicken, quails and guinea fowl that we have in the entire country."

This is the first time that a study on indigenous poultry on this magnitude is being conducted in Kenya.

Kisa Juma Ngeiywa, the director of Veterinary Services at Ministry of Agriculture, the data bank on indigenous poultry will facilitate formulation of policies that "adequately meet the needs of farmers and Kenyans."

Dr Ngeiywa said "we will be able to inform consumers on types of indigenous poultry with a high nutritional value and also advise farmers on the varieties of indigenous poultry that meet markets demands."

While information is available at the various government agencies and other libraries, Kenya is yet to have a dedicated centre or portal that exclusively deals with poultry. Storing data at a central server, the researcher says, minimises chances of error.

"Without the digital platform, we would need to employ data entry clerks to physically transfer the information to our online database. This was a major source of inaccuracies."

Moreover, the digital questionnaire has been designed to detect irregularities in interview responses. "It quickly notifies the researchers of any invalid responses that need to be checked," Mr Oyier says.

Additional features of the smart phone, states Dr Ommeh, have also improved the efficiency of data collection.

"For instance, the phone has a Global Positioning System reader that ensures we get the exact locations of indigenous poultry in various locations where the research is conducted." A camera and temperature reader allow researchers to take real time photos of poultry in different climatic conditions.

The scientists draw blood samples that help to determine the genetic make-up of the poultry, Dr Ommeh, notes, adding that the barcode reader installed in the phone matches samples to individual birds.

The e-questionnaires capture as many people as possible and records the environment, says Mr Oyier, who adds any smart phones fitted with similar features can be used.

The JKUAT project mirrors the busy window of software developers who have churned out many apps that target the multi-billion shilling farming sector. Some of the apps so far created are iCow, BioVision, iKilimo, and Natural Farmer, some of which have got international acclaim.

Young Kenyans are embracing agriculture, partly due to technology that they are familiar with to access information on prices and markets, helping the farmer to keep middlemen at bay.

Dr Ommeh notes that "going digital" has made research work easier. "Initially, if I wanted to interview a 1,000 people rearing poultry, I would have to carry printed questionnaires. But now all I need is one phone and I can get all I want," she says.

Dr Ommeh adds: "We can also have as many questions as we want so as to get sufficient information without worrying about the size and weight of questionnaires."

Consequently, she says, complexities associated with packaging and transporting questionnaires to targeted the population has been abolished. "You just put the phone in your pocket and no one will suspect you are carrying anything. This is also good for security purposes."

The ODK platform is user-friendly. Instead of flipping through pages of a questionnaire, the touch screen phone allows researchers to slide through the e-form.

"In case we need to make corrections on some forms, it's easy for us to retrieve them through the phone," she said.

The phones are installed with large memory cards to accommodate the bulky work and enable manipulations, say when making corrections. JKUAT is betting on the online data bank to give the government, the public, entrepreneurs and researchers access to information on Kenyan poultry.

"This will be useful in developing strategies that will enable small-scale farmers rearing indigenous poultry to get high yields and economic value out of their trade," says Dr Ommeh. Information on poultry varieties, Dr Ngeiywa says, will lead to faster response during disease outbreaks.

"Knowing what we have in the country will help us to conserve our indigenous poultry genetic varieties so that they do not become extinct."

sooko@ke.nationmedia.com


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Source: Business Daily (Kenya)


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