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The Southern African Agri Initiative, known as Saai, recently launched a WhatsApp-based artificial intelligence (AI) platform for family farmers.
The chatbot, known as Hi Saai, uses various data points on the Internet to answer users’ farming-related questions within minutes, said Francois Rossouw, CEO of Saai, during the media launch at Saai’s Pretoria offices.
“There are still many issues that we need to address, and this is the second test phase that we are rolling out. However, we hope that users will help us move the platform forward by providing feedback,” said Rossouw.
Keeping up with technological advances
Dr Theo de Jager, chairperson of Saai, said it is becoming increasingly important that new technology should remain within the reach of small- and medium-sized, family-owned farms.
“To survive in an environment where large corporate groups and multinational companies are increasingly taking over primary production, the world’s small- and medium-scale producers need the help of the best digital technology. In future, farms will be managed with big data, robots, drones and satellites, the Internet of Things, blockchain technology, and especially AI.”
While South Africa’s average farmer is 62 years old, De Jager believes that AI technology such as Hi Saai would entice a younger generation to get excited about the sector.
Read more about Saai’s land claim platform here.
Ironing out kinks
Rossouw says certain challenges still need to be overcome, such as the fact that the chatbot responds slower in Afrikaans than in English. There are also a few interface issues when using it on a handheld device. It is therefore easier to use the chatbot from a laptop or a desktop computer.
“Currently, we are also working on phase two of the project. We’re hoping to feed more specialised South African knowledge into the bot and for this, we are using tools such as old agricultural studies exam papers,” Rossouw said. “We also hope to connect it directly to fresh produce markets soon.”
The chatbot can also only respond to language commands and therefore producers are not yet able to enter the global positioning points of their farm and receive tailor-made answers. Rossouw said the bot currently only responds to linguistic questions, which means that it will understand questions about a region (e.g., Limpopo), but not co-ordinates.
“Farmers should, however, understand that Saai cannot take responsibility for the accuracy of the advice given by Hi Saai. This is only a tool that will enable farmers to know in which direction to look for answers to their problems.”
Read more about Saai’s investigation into the Land Bank here.
Hi Saai is available free of charge to all family farmers. The only condition for use is that they need to have an Internet connection.
Producers can access the platform by saving Hi Saai’s number, 072 457 5570, on their phones. The platform is activated once a farmer sends a message with the words: “Hi Saai”. Once the chatbot responds, the producer can post his or her question and the bot will respond with an extensive response within minutes. – Susan Marais, AgriOrbit