Poulta is working on providing the right data to the industry to facilitate a switch from a reactive to a proactive approach, writes ZAHRAH IMTIAZ.
Ali Murtaza Solangi believes that most of the losses in Pakistan’s poultry industry can be curbed with the right data. A software engineer by profession, Mr Solangi founded Poulta to offer cost-effective IoT solutions to the industry.
“I was inspired by an incident where one of my friends lost close to USD 200,000 when 70,000 of his birds died overnight. They could not detect the cause of the problem immediately but three days later tests showed that it was an issue with the water. That signaled the birth Poulta,” recalled Mr Solangi.
He noted that many farmers work ‘reactively’, making the lucrative industry extremely risky. “We are working on providing the data to enable a switch from a reactive to a proactive approach,” he said.
Poulta provides farmers with sensors to capture real time data within the farm so that they are notified of any changes harmful to the birds’ quality of life. The data stored in the cloud can also be useful for decision making on the farm.
Poulta looks at the complete supply chain — from ‘farm to fork’ — offering the flexibility to integrate their systems to any existing machinery on the farm. This reduces the cost of adapting the IoT solutions offered.
“Poulta also goes one step further and integrates multiple data points into one place, offering an overall picture of the company’s operations. This is something that is currently not available even if you have sophisticated machinery installed in closed house systems,” he said.
He noted that though many companies have adopted sophisticated hardware and software, they often fail, mainly due to farms being in remote areas, with limited internet connectivity and unreliable sources of electricity. This is where Poulta succeeds.
Mr Solangi said Poulta overcame this problem using both hardware and software to boost connectivity in isolated areas and having service centers to support farmers offline.
Introducing new technology has not been an easy task, and many were skeptical. Despite this, the company was able to get on board a few of the larger farming groups with a younger generation of producers running the operations. “They are more responsive to new technology,” he said.
This helped extend Poulta operations to 120 sheds in the first four months of operations in 2021, giving the company sufficient successful trials to confirm it works.
“We have proven reduced mortality and increased weight gain by 5-10%. Flock days have also been improved (2.5kg birds in 34 days instead of 35 days). This saves energy, labor, feed, and operation costs.”
Since starting operations, Mr Solangi said that they have also been able to get new insights and data into poultry operations. For example the history of medicine usage in birds across the chain.
“With vertically integrated farms we can look at the medical history GP to broilers, which will help the farmer look at disease risk, thus reducing the use of medicines,” explained Mr Solangi.
This data can be used to customize treatment to certain breeds within the region they are grown in, he added.
This is a major boon for the industry where disease is a frequent occurrence.
Given the complexity of the system, Poulta invested in after-sales services, said Mr Solangi.
A team constantly monitors sensors and systems installed and alerts the customers if there are hitches. This also helps them attend to issues early on without any inconvenience to the customer.
“For all these, customers are charged a yearly subscription fee,” he added.
When it comes to the accuracy of the data, however, much depends on the accuracy of the data entry operator. Often, this comes down to the aptitude of the manager/worker at the farm.
“In Pakistan as well as many developing countries, farm level work is done by low skilled workers. Thus at times, the accuracy of the data can be questionable,” said Mr Solangi.
To overcome this issue, Poulta is working on a completely automated system, making the application user-friendly and training users so they enter the data accurately.
“Eventually we will provide automated weighing machines, feed and water supply machines, so that managers don’t have to enter any data. We will get ‘real time FCR’ and farmers can get flock performance numbers like on the stock market,” he revealed.
This would mean that farmers do not have to wait until a flock is culled to look at its overall performance. In time, with more data, farmers can compare past performance to predict future results.
The ultimate goal, Mr Solangi said, is going into predictive analytics but that will need at least 1.5 years of data for the algorithm to come up with an accurate model.
Eventually, they will also be able to provide a fully traceable model.
“In Europe traceability means telling where it comes from but with Poulta we aim to go beyond that. We know exactly what happened at each step – what feed, medicine, etc. they used. So, they can trust the product. That is traceability,” said Mr Solangi.
Poulta for the future
Poulta also aims to increase the skilled workforce to modernize poultry farming.
“There is a huge gap between academia and industry. Industry is moving at a fast pace, with modern technology but they are facing an issue. Lack of skilled workers to handle these,” said Mr Solangi.
To overcome this issue, Poulta signed MoUs with universities, as well as with Young Veterinary Doctors Association to train the next generation of vets and poultry practitioners on digitizing poultry farms.
This will also make it easier for them to adapt to new technologies coming into the industry. “Our certificate will be recognized at the global level and anyone trained by us can work in any poultry farm around the world. At the same time the industry will have the trained skilled force needed for future farms,” said Mr Solangi.
In 2022, the company extended its services to clients in the Middle East, opening offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
Poulta aims to help the GCC region with their vision 2030 for food security. Poulta will help them with the ‘True Farm-to-Fork’ of their eggs and chicks, and their plan to enhance local poultry production under hot weather with next-generation poultry solutions.
Looking at the situation overall, Mr Solangi said at present many farmers are relying on experience and the trial and error method to conduct farming. “This is not a scientific method. It causes a lot of unnecessary losses. So what we need in Pakistan is a targeted and scientific approach to farming.”
This is important as every sector in the country is undergoing digital disruption. Poulta can bring this to the poultry industry, noted Mr Solangi.