LOS ANGELES, California — The largest country in East Africa, Tanzania, has been known to use agriculture to drive economic growth since 75% of Tanzania’s population is employed in the agricultural sector. Medium‐scale farms and small, commercialized farms have secured leading roles in Tanzanian agriculture. Nearly one-third of the country’s GDP comes from agriculture; however, “70% of the population live in extreme poverty most of whom are dependent on agriculture.” The development of Agripoa software aims to revolutionize agriculture in Tanzania.
Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture
In 1956, John McCarthy coined the term “artificial intelligence” (AI), at Dartmouth College. Since agriculture remains the largest form of employment in Africa, innovative technology and AI are increasingly essential in modernizing the sector.
An AI solution made an appearance in Africa in 2019 when software engineer, Placidius Castus Rwechungura, created a farm management software tool to help African poultry farmers plan, monitor and analyze farm activities. The software, Agripoa, revolutionized agriculture in Tanzania by providing data-driven insights to help farmers make the right decisions at the right time.
The Borgen Project interviewed Rwechungura. He said that the word, “Agripoa,” is a combination of two words of English and Swahili. “Agri” means “agriculture” in English and “poa” means “fine” or “cool” in Swahili. Rwechungura said these phrases were combined to mean “agriculture is cool.” Agripoa uses artificial intelligence to collect poultry data to evaluate results through analytics. This allows farmers the opportunity to compare results and conduct statistical analyses.
In November 2020, Agripoa was selected as a finalist in the start-up category for African Development Bank’s AYAF AgriPitch Competition.
In the interview, Rwechungura shared that the idea for the company began in 2017 during employment at the United Bank for America. While working in the banking sector, Rwechungura was farming crops part-time on a four-acre farm. “Many farmers wanted to become big farmers but they lacked proper Information, markets, credit facilities and proper records and history,” Rwechungura shared.
He was fueled by a desire to tackle these challenges and aimed to develop software to solve them. Rwechungura then resigned and began working on his dream. He launched the company with $5,000 from the Tony Elumelu Foundation and a personal savings account from his previous employment. Members of the partnership also built websites and developed software to finance the project.
How Agripoa Helps Farmers
According to the official Agripoa website, the software will help farmers get market connections and teach them about the quality of products needed in a given market. It will also indicate which products are high in demand. These tools aim to prepare farmers to meet the demands and standards of their buyers.
The software also allows farmers to track expenses for animal feeds, medicine and other farm inputs. Additionally, the software alerts a user when money is overspent. The developers hope to make it easy to know the development of the farm, get a vaccination calendar, track the quantity of food to feed the animals and get informed about new outbreaks.
Creating Connections in Agriculture
In addition, Agripoa intends to help farmers search for online experts and suppliers without meeting physically with another person, which is a safer option during the COVID-19 pandemic. A user can also create online farm groups, record daily expenses and find solutions to poultry diseases. Another feature in Agripoa involves chatting with veterinarians and exchanging ideas with nearby or remote farmers. The app consolidates all messages, groups and communications.
Agripoa’s official website advertises the software’s ability to help farmers form meaningful connections. It states that farmers can use Agripoa to get connected with other farmers, agronomists for extension services and farm input suppliers and credits.
Users can expect future changes in Agripoa. Rwechungura shared plans to add the Farm Management Feature. This will help the farmers keep their farm data properly, including day-to-day activities. This new feature will use the same data for insights and analytics to help farmers make better decisions.
Farm Data Risks
Rwechungura told How we made it in Africa that he believes the most successful form of marketing is a combination of online advertisements and working alongside agronomists, veterinary officers and farm experts to market to customers. Rwechungura is concerned about the lack of farm data ownership policies in Tanzania. He shares that this is the risk his business faces. The company currently has eight full-time staff members. Agripoa looks to hire experts with different backgrounds such as software engineers, programmers, veterinary experts and marketing experts. The company values versatility in a team.
The Future of Agripoa
Rwechungura said the most rewarding part of working for Agripoa is connecting with farmers. “We are a very fast-growing company; hence, we encourage experts from around the world to join our company as we expect to expand to other countries.” The software currently has 20,000 users and allowed founder Rwechungura to digitize Tanzania’s poultry industry. Rwechungura and his partner, Kelvin, plan to expand to Kenya and Ethiopia next year. Agripoa is revolutionizing agriculture in Tanzania and has the potential to do the same for all of Africa.
– Rachel Durling