Heifer International and FruitPunch AI Launch Next Phase of Artificial Intelligence Challenge to Improve Data Access for Women Farmers

By Heifer International

July 9, 2024

LITTLE ROCK, AR – Jul. 1, 2024 – Global development organization Heifer International and FruitPunch AI, the global community educating and applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good, today announced the second phase of the AI for Women Farmers Challenge – a project to develop AI tools to help rural women farmers in Nepal leverage data to improve their livelihoods.   

The project aims to help women-run agricultural cooperatives extract and translate their own data on financial, business and other activities, which the co-op members can then use to improve their access to markets, financing, product traceability platforms and more.   

In Heifer International’s decades-long work supporting women smallholders in Nepal, a key vehicle for economic and social empowerment is the organization of agricultural cooperatives, which provide technical, production and financial services to their member farmers. However, a digital divide prevents farmer cooperatives from easily using and benefiting from their own data as most information, such as sales, loan and production records, is stored on paper ledgers, out of reach of the digital ecosystem.   

AI for Women Farmers Challenge 2 will build on the success of the original Challenge, which completed in May 2024. Its goal was to start with a photo of a farmer loan agreement and use AI to transcribe and translate the content into English. During that first phase, 20 AI for Good volunteers, working concurrently in three teams, delivered over 1,500 hours of engineering work and solved three key hurdles to empower women farmers to benefit from their own data: 

  •  First, detecting blocks of typed and handwritten Devanagari script on the photo.
  • Second, recognizing each character and word.
  • Third, translating the digitized Devanagari script into English. 

“In the first Challenge, we took paper-based farmer data and solved the scientific problem of digitizing it,” said Vess Natchev, Global Technical Lead at Heifer Labs, a digital technology unit within Heifer International that collaborates with country programs to co-create technology interventions that deliver farmer value and accelerate Heifer’s organizational goals. “With the second Challenge, we are completing the technical journey and returning structured digital data to farmers, which they can use to obtain cheaper loans.” 

Using the results of the first phase, AI for Women Farmers Challenge 2 will create digital files from the translated loan agreement data. Key information, such as borrower name, amount and term, will be available in table format. This will enable farmers to easily include their repayment history in a bank loan application and obtain a lower interest rate. The Challenge will also create a simple mobile and web app to automate the full process from photo to structured digital file. 

“Building on the foundation established in the first phase, we're excited for the next chapter in the AI for Women Farmers Challenge,” said Dorian Groen, Challenge Manager and Educator at FruitPunch AI. “Faced with the complexities of the Devanagari script, including its handwritten forms, we are now eager to tackle and overcome the challenges ahead. In this next phase, we’re enhancing our AI and Computer Vision models to make a real positive impact.”   

Heifer’s long-term vision is to leverage this AI approach of quickly digitizing and translating existing records to help smallholder farmers benefit from their own data in multiple areas. In addition to financial history, existing livestock and crops records can provide valuable insights on optimal feeding, veterinary care, fertilizer use and production tracking. Such recommendations can decrease unnecessary farmer spending and improve yields, ultimately contributing to higher incomes. 

Heifer International began operating in Nepal in 1997, working alongside local farmers to improve food security and reduce poverty by providing technical support to strengthen agricultural value chains, promoting environmentally friendly farming, and improving access to affordable inputs and services. To date, Heifer Nepal has supported over 400,000 families, organized into 277 agricultural cooperatives — all working under the Social Entrepreneur Women Alliance, an apex governing body led by progressive women farmers. 

About Heifer International

Since 1944, Heifer International has worked with more than 46 million people around the world to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. Heifer currently operates in 19 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including the United States, supporting farmers and food producers to strengthen local economies and build secure livelihoods that provide a living income. For more information, visit: https://www.heifer.org


Media Contact:

Leocadio Salmeron, Public Relations Manager

leocadio.salmeron@heifer.org +1 404.398.8858