I want to introduce you to my badass friends. Meet Thelma and Louise.
I'm passionate about cows. And although they've been getting a lot of crap lately due to methane emissions and climate change, I hope that I can redeem their reputation in part by showing you how incredibly important they are in solving one of the world's biggest problems: food security. But more importantly, for Africa—it's resultant childhood stunting.
Nutritional stunting manifests itself in a reduction of growth rate in human development. And according to UNICEF, stunting doesn't come easy. It doesn't come quickly. It happens over a long period of time during which a child endures painful and debilitating cycles of illness, depressed appetite, insufficient nutrition and inadequate care. And most kids simply can't endure such rigors. But those that do survive, they carry forward long-term cognitive problems as well as losses of stature. The numbers of stunted children under the age of five, in most regions of the world, has been declining. And I really hate to say this, but the only place where they haven't been declining is here, in Africa. Here, 59 million children, three in 10 in that age group, struggle to meet their genetic potential—their full genetic potential.
Protein is one of our most important dietary requirements, and evidence shows that lack of essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in young children's diets, can result in stunting. Essential amino acids are called essential because we can't synthesize them in our bodies. We have to get them from our foods and the best sources are animal-derived: milk, meat and eggs. Most protein consumed on the African continent is crop-based. And although we have millions of smallholder farmers rearing animals, livestock production is not as easy as we think. The big livestock gaps between rich countries and poor countries are due to poor animal health. Endemic livestock diseases, some of them transmissible to humans, threaten not only livestock producers in those poor countries, but all human health across all countries.
This is a global pathogens network. It shows the pathogens found across the world according to the Enhanced Infectious Diseases database. And it shows those pathogens that share hosts. In a nutshell, we share pathogens, and thus diseases, with the species we live closest to: our livestock. And we call these zoonotic diseases. Recent reports show that the deadly dozen zoonotic diseases kill 2.2 million people and sicken 2.4 billion people annually. And Jimmy says, "The greatest burden of zoonoses falls on one billion poor livestock keepers."
We totally underestimate the importance of our smallholder farmers. We're beginning to recognize how important they are and how they influence our medical health, our biosafety and more recently, our cognitive and our physical health. They stand at the frontline of zoonotic epidemics. They pretty much underpin our existence. And they need to know so much, yet most lack knowledge on livestock disease prevention and treatment.
So how do they learn? Apart from shared experiences, trial and error, conventional farming extension services are boots on the ground and radio—expensive and hard to scale in the face of population growth.
Sounds pretty gloomy, doesn't it? But we're at an interesting point in Africa. We're changing that narrative using innovative solutions, riding across scalable technologies. Knowledge doesn't have to be expensive.
My company developed an agricultural platform called iCow. We teach farmers best livestock practices using SMS over simple, low-end phones. Farmers receive three SMSs a week on best livestock practices, and those that execute the messages go on to see increases in productivity within as short a time as three months. The first increases in productivity, of course, are improved animal health. We use SMS because it is retentive. Farmers store their messages, they write them down in books, and in effect, we're drip-feeding agricultural manuals into the fields.
We recognize that we are all part of the global food network: producers and consumers, you and me, and every farmer. We're focusing now on trying to bring together producers and consumers to take action and take responsibility for not only food security, but for food safety.
This beautiful animal is an African-Asian Sahiwal crossed with a Dutch Fleckvieh. She's milkier than her Sahiwal mom, and she's sturdier and more resistant to disease than her Fleckvieh father. In Ethiopia and Tanzania, the African Dairy Genetic Gains program is using SMS and cutting-edge genomics and pioneering Africa's first tropically adapted dairy breeding centers and dairy performance recording centers. Farmers contribute their production data—milking records, breeding records and feeding records—to the ADGG platform. This stage is synthesized through algorithms from some of the top livestock institutions in the world before it lands back in the farmers' hands in actionable SMSs. Customized data, customized responses all aimed at increasing productivity based on the potential on the ground.
We're at a very interesting place in agriculture in Africa. By the end of this year, we'll have almost one billion mobile phone subscriptions. We have the power in our hands to ensure that livestock production systems are not only healthy, productive and profitable, but that farmers are knowledgeable, and more importantly, that our farmers are safe.
Working with smallholder farmers is one of the best ways to guarantee food security. Working with smallholder farmers is one of the best ways to guarantee each and every child their full opportunity and ability to reach their full genetic potential. And harnessing the power of millions of smallholder farmers and their badass cows like mine, we should be able to bring a halt to stunting in Africa.