With technology rapidly advancing the way it is, the infusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into major sectors is underway. This comes at a time where the word AI is no longer just a buzzword, but a real-life, unfolding reality.
Messaging remains on the pedestal as one of the most popular methods of communication, whether it’s through text messages or messaging apps. Arifu‘s chatbot though, provides a unique twist to this aspect. Imagine texting, but now getting information and feedback from your phone without subscribing to the internet or using airtime.
According to Craig Heintzman, the co-founder and CEO of Arifu, many farm households and small scale rural entrepreneurs lack access to the credible information and tools they need to manage and improve their earnings.
But there’s a way to reach them. In Kenya specifically, 62 per cent of the country’s population of 49 million have access to mobile phones. The downside is, millions are without the internet or smartphones and cannot access the Web or social media to learn new skills.
This is where Arifu comes in. In 2015, Canadian National and Business graduate Heintzman launched a platform where people access free educational content from helpful sources and credible organisations over any mobile phone.
A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through voice commands, text chats or both. The chatbot responds to standard questions immediately, at any time of the day. If a learner needs to ask a question in the middle of the night, a chatbot can answer within seconds.
Chatbots have improved the efficiency of businesses across the world through streamlining communication with consumers. In Africa, however, the technology is transforming education, farming, and rural entrepreneurship by making it easy for organisations to pass knowledge and skills to masses through basic phones.
One user, Janet Kanyua, is a 45-year-old mother and farmer who keeps dairy cows, rears chicken, and grows beans and maize in Imenti Central, Meru. She started the small scale farming activities after finishing her secondary education.
As with most Kenya’s rural small-scale farmers, she often struggled to sustain growth owing to limited access to finance to purchase quality farming inputs, limited access to knowledge on good agricultural practices, and appropriate technologies.
Then she discovered Arifu. “I saw a TV advertisement about a way where I would learn about farming using my basic phone by texting a question and I would get a reply. I dialled the number. I have trained with them for about three years. I learn about cows and rearing kienyeji chicken,” she said.
She started learning about animal husbandry and later advanced to crop farming and finances. Now Janet has turned her dairy farming into a business.
“Earlier, I did not know about cross-breeding and that there is a specific fertiliser for maize and one for cereals. I was just buying DAP and mixing it with soil. I used to do mixed farming but on my phone, I have learned that it is not the best. I never used to make a lot of money,” she said.
Craig and his team then developed a simple SMS chatbot accessible by any phone on the market via SMS, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. “If you create a website you will still not reach them. They don’t have a computer or smartphone. But Arifu is engaging, entertaining, and free, so people can afford to use it,” he said.
Arifu is headquartered in Nairobi. They have worked with banks, mobile operators, agribusinesses, Microfinance Institutions (MFIs), and NGOs such as Syngenta, Mobigrow Kenya Commercial bank (KCB), Equity Bank, Digi Farm by Safaricom, Vodacom, CGAP, TechnoServe, and the Kenyan government to spread skills training and product information to the underserved segment of the population.
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