Internet of Cows? India’s bovines get digital identities

While IoT usually conjures up images of futuristic connected homes and smart gadgets, a new digital network in India is being built to monitor a different kind of valuable asset: cows.

Thousands of cows across India are being granted their own unique 12-digit identification number, similar to the country’s Aadhaar digital identity program. Each animal will be tagged with a small, tamper-proof RFID device tied to its identifier that will catalogue name, birth date, and biometric data – in this case, breed, color and horn shape. The system can also be used to monitor the health of the animal, particularly its milk output and reproductive history.

Aadhaar for cattle” has two primary goals. First, it theoretically will allow people to more effectively manage the health of their livestock, which are often a core component of a household’s economic well-being. Data on tagged animals will be uploaded to a central database, where owners can access it via smartphone.

The system also aims to reduce illegal transportation and abuse of cows throughout India, where penalties for harming the revered animal can range from hefty fines up to a life sentence in some states.

While pilot programs for tagging and digitally identifying cattle have been underway for about a year in select locations throughout the country, the government looks poised to support a nationwide registration program in the near term.

This nationwide push for bovine digital identity is part of a broader “Digital India” initiative, which includes various “smart agriculture” technologies that have been emerging around the country in recent years. Chitale Dairy in Bhilawadi, India, for example, partnered with Dell on its own “cows to cloud” program to increase milk yield. One of India’s largest fertilizer companies earlier this year also instituted a digital ID system for farmers to track and authenticate fertilizer deliveries via mobile device.

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Kaelyn Lowmaster is an Asia-focused Market Analytics and Research Associate with One World Identity. Prior to joining OWI, she worked in the Army's International Affairs Division at the Pentagon, and coordinated Johns Hopkins' graduate programs in Nanjing, China. Kaelyn holds an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a graduate certificate from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, and a BA from Colgate University. She is currently based in Tokyo.