Revolutionising the poultry industry: Pakistan and beyond

In the months following the 2020 global SUN Pitch competition, winning Pakistani SME, Poulta, has used their Cargill-sponsored cash prize of US$10,000 to adapt to challenges, make plans for the future, and continue to use innovation to disrupt the poultry industry to enable farmers to detect, predict and prevent problems early on.

In Pakistan, there is an urgent need to improve the nutrition status of many sectors of the population, specifically the protein intake and nutrition security of vulnerable populations such as children and women of reproductive age. In particular, Pakistan is experiencing two forms of malnutrition, anaemia and stunting; the national prevalence of under-five stunting is 37.6% and, among the adult population, 52.1% of women of reproductive age are anaemic.

To help overcome these challenges, Poulta has developed a data-driven system for poultry farmers which monitors air and water quality, mortality rates, feed consumption, and other productivity factors. Farmers are also able to monitor multiple farms at once with this equipment, meaning they can use their time more effectively and streamline operations. In addition, by using artificial intelligence, internet-of-things, big data and blockchain technologies, Poulta has developed the very first traceability approach, globally, for eggs and chickens from farm-to-fork. This technology demonstrates when and where these eggs and chickens were grown, how they reached the consumer, and provides assurance that the products are hygienic and free of disease. By providing an end-to-end solution, this software system is helping to improve the productivity of the poultry sector and provide adequate protein to those who need it.

So far, Poulta’s solution has been successfully deployed in 150 controlled poultry sheds, where it has resulted in a 1% reduction in mortality, 10–15% reduction in medicine costs, 15% reduction in energy consumption, and a 5–8% increase in production, which has collectively helped farmers increase their profitability by up to US$30,000.

Success with sponsorship

In 2020, the global SUN Pitch Competition offered five prizes to competing SMEs. Poulta was awarded the Cargill Innovation to Enable Access to Good Nutrition Prize, a US$10,000 cash prize sponsored by Cargill awarded to the SME deemed by judges to best improve accessibility to healthier foods either through greater market access, innovative reformulation, collaborative partnership, consumer education, or new delivery channels.

“Cargill is a big player in the world and in dealing with poultry in particular, so being supported by them is very good news for Poulta,” stated Ali Murtaza Solangi, founder and CEO of the enterprise, in response to his victory. The money from the Cargill Innovation Prize has been used by Poulta in a variety of ways, such as to further improve product deployments to farmers, enhance their research and development (R&D) capacity, streamline device manufacturing and cover operational expenses.

Facing COVID challenges

The money provided by the Cargill cash prize and the support provided through the competition came at a particularly opportune time as the company was affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government measures that emerged in response.

As cases of the virus spread, city lockdowns and mass social distancing orders came into effect across Pakistan. Although seemingly unrelated to Poulta’s operations, these restrictions proved to be hugely significant. In Pakistan, chicken is typically served at large gatherings such as weddings and other functions, and these events comprise a significant proportion of the poultry industry’s demand. Consequently, when gatherings were banned by the Government, demand for chicken fell, negatively impacting poultry farmers’ sales which led to a decline in purchasing of Poulta’s software and equipment due to a lack of available funds. Furthermore, travel restrictions and border closures meant that Poulta was unable to source devices and manufacturing materials from overseas, namely China.

Innovating for survival

Despite the significant challenges Poulta faced as a result of the pandemic, the SME managed to retain all employees and continue with manufacturing and R&D operations throughout 2020. For this, the employees credit Solangi’s adaptability; his ability to find ways to carry on with normal business operations despite the restrictions demonstrates both his and the company’s resilience, while continued investment into R&D has enabled the enterprise to improve products to support them moving forward. Specifically, Poulta have been able to develop improved versions of the monitoring hardware and software, which will aid them in scaling activities in the future.

Poulta emphasises the significance of the Cargill prize money in supporting these activities, as well as the networking and mentorship opportunities provided as part of the Pitch Competition, which allowed them to expand their network and clientele. The Pitch Competition served as an opportunity to appear on a global platform, be guided by experienced professionals and, ultimately, win a prize to support the company during particularly challenging times. Solangi acknowledges the importance of initiatives such as the SUN Pitch Competition, and the involvement of sponsors such as Cargill, in supporting start-ups and SMEs to make a difference in the nutritional outcomes of communities.

Looking to the future

For the months and years ahead, Poulta has big plans. In 2021, the enterprise has begun paid deployments of their solution, as many of their clients prior to the Pitch Competition were being used to demonstrate the potential of the equipment and, thus, were not paying for the service. However, now, the results from these trials have shown the effectiveness of the services Poulta provides and will allow them to realise the fruits of their labour.

Scaling up is also key to Poulta’s plans for the future. However, while the enterprise has its sights set on infiltrating markets in Saudi Arabia, the US, and beyond, their current priority remains their local market in Pakistan.

Poulta is truly on a mission to support farmers, improve nutrition, and provide, for the first time, an end-to-end digitised system for complete traceability of poultry products to the consumer’s plate for a healthier and more hygienic final product.