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How Agripoa is using AI to empower Tanzanian poultry farmers

 

Catalyzing an ecosystem of artificial intelligence (AI) for development-oriented entrepreneurs and innovators is a key function of the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D Africa) initiative. Now into its third year, this $20 million partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency promotes excellence in applied research and in applying AI technologies to solve development issues. 

One way that AI4D Africa does this is by issuing small grants through organizations such as Villgro Africa, a social enterprise business incubator providing seed capital and technical assistance to early-stage businesses in Africa. Through AI4D, Villgro funded 11 responsible AI tools in 2021. 

One recipient was Agripoa, a software start-up in Tanzania that helps African poultry farmers plan, monitor and analyze their activities. 

“Agripoa had a very viable solution already and was looking for partners to help scale it,” says Rob Beyer, Co-Founder of Villgro Africa. “They’re doing some amazing things in poultry farming, which a lot of smallholder farmers rely on.”  

Of the 4.7 million agricultural households in Tanzania, 3.7 million keep poultry. Poultry disease is a significant issue for these farmers, and it can cause sudden and rapid drops in productivity and food security. Access to farming experts is limited, meaning poultry farmers often struggle to mitigate and recover from disease outbreaks on their farms. 

To solve this issue, Agripoa’s app uses AI to enable farmers to identify and treat poultry disease quickly and confidently.  

“The farmer takes a picture of the poultry feces and uploads it to the app. It will advise the farmer on the type of disease and the type of medication to be used, along with suppliers they can contact,” explained Placidius Rwechungura, CEO of Agripoa. “The app will make a big impact for farmers because they no longer need to wait for an expert to physically visit their farm. We’re teaching farmers best practices that will improve their productivity, food security and profits.” 

Agripoa is also encouraging peer-to-peer learning through group messaging in the app. It rates users’ expertise and allows more experienced farmers to create groups. This means that if no farming experts are online, users can still connect with other farmers for support. Rwechungura reports that Agripoa has seen more than 500 texts in the app’s messaging groups within two months. 

The app has been released to early adopters in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and financial hub. Agripoa aims to take the app live across Tanzania in the coming months. 

Research highlights

  • AI offers exciting opportunities to transform international development solutions.  
  • AI4D Africa is a four-year, $20 million partnership between IDRC and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. It envisions a future where AI empowers Africans to have a more prosperous, inclusive and greener future.  
  • AI4D Africa partnered with Villgro Africa to call for applications for a grant to support African entrepreneurs innovating in AI.  
  • One grant winner, Agripoa, uses AI to help farmers identify and treat poultry disease without the need for an expert to physically visit their farm. Agripoa hopes to improve the livelihoods of the 3.7 million households in Tanzania that keep poultry

 

Fuelling sustainable AI innovation through partnerships 

Agripoa’s vision extends beyond helping farmers identify and treat diseases. The business aims to forge valuable industry partnerships to leverage data generated by the app and enhance the service it provides to users. Agripoa has already attracted the attention of a major insurance provider, Jubilee Insurance, which now offers to underwrite farmers who use the app to map their farms.  

This is a huge benefit for local farmers, who in the past would typically not have had an insurance policy, especially in the face of increasing challenges caused by climate change. This data is then used to advise the insurer to pay claims to Agripoa farmers as they are now aware of the disease affecting the farmers, the type of feeds and vaccination taken, etc. 

Agripoa is also working with policymakers, which is critical to the company’s future and to ensuring policy keeps up with the rapid advancement of AI technologies and usage. There is also potential for Agripoa to partner with banks, as the app generates valuable financial data by helping farmers calculate the cost of farming projects while also contributing to improving their credit scoring.  

Agripoa has now started a product called “poultry share” where they provide unsecured loans to poultry farmers to boost their production. This is done by purchasing the inputs and providing veterinary services to these farmers and the repayment is made after the sales. This is advantageous to the farmers because Agripoa also helps the farmers get connected with markets.  

Nurturing a growing community of AI experts  

“It’s a formative time for AI in Africa. There are AI entrepreneurs all over the continent that just need a little support, funding and encouragement,” explains Beyer. “At Villgro, we make ourselves available and we take them through business development camps. We’re looking forward to unleashing and unlocking more entrepreneurs like Placidius, who are driven by impact.” He adds: “Engagement with the AI4D program has been very instrumental in linking innovators like Placidius and Agripoa to African AI researchers and other experts, where impact and scale can be accelerated”.  

African countries have a burgeoning community of data scientists, machine learning specialists and researchers who are exploring how AI can contribute to tackling local challenges. These communities support young researchers to acquire skills, strengthen their talents and drive new development-oriented innovations. AI4D Africa aims to facilitate these knowledge-sharing efforts with partners such as Deep Learning Indaba and Data Science Africa. Similarly to Villgro, these organizations are able to award small grants and offer mentorship to researchers, start-ups, and academic and civil society institutions.  

Placadius highlighted how this type of support has been invaluable for Agripoa’s success. “Villgro Africa advised us on things such as the business model, how to pitch and prepare the financials and how to make the app go international. The power of AI cannot be fully realized in start-ups without the support of big players like Villgro Africa and AI4D Africa.”   

Developing responsible AI: opportunities and risks 

AI has transformative potential to solve the world’s most pressing international development issues. It offers exciting opportunities in the Global South, where innovation is being fuelled by the increasing availability of computational power, improved connectivity and data. AI promises to enhance productivity across agriculture, health care, education, transportation and governance.  

Yet the rapid growth of AI also carries the risk of negative repercussions, such as exacerbating economic and social inequalities or creating new ones. This is particularly true in countries with weaker institutional capacity and legal protections. It is therefore critical we support responsible, inclusive innovation like the Agripoa tool to harness the power of AI, while mitigating its risks.  

Contributors: Placidius Rwechungura, CEO of Agripoa; Deogratias Mzurikwao, AI Sector Lead at Villgro Africa; Rob Beyer, Cofounder & Exec. Chair at Villgro Africa