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Expert views

AI's transformative role in small business trade

23 November 2023
Ashraf Abushady and Farrukh Alimdjanov, United Nations Industrial Organization (UNIDO)

UNIDO's visionary approach


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer just a buzzword. It is a reality; it is here, and it is happening now!

AI is a transformative force reshaping industries, including small business trade and exports. As technology's capabilities grow, small businesses can use AI to gain a competitive edge on the global stage.


AI technologies streamline operations, reduce costs, and increase efficiency, allowing small businesses to expand their market reach. Implementing AI tools can significantly impact order processing, supply chain management, and customer engagement, which is crucial for businesses entering or expanding in international markets.

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A Finnish technology provider explains how to operate an innovative modular feedmill solution for converting invasive plant species into animal fodder.

Addressing challenges with UN support

But with such rapid changes come challenges, and this is where the United Nations can step in, especially through its specialized agencies. 

UNIDO recognizes the challenges and opportunities presented by AI in global trade. Through initiatives like AIM Global, UNIDO is fostering an ecosystem where small businesses can harness AI's potential responsibly and sustainably. AIM Global serves as a platform for dialogue, knowledge exchange, and collaboration, essential for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) adapting to this changing landscape.

In Namibia, for example, UNIDO pioneered an innovative project that leveraged the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to revolutionize the country's bush-processing value chains.

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Inside the modular feedmill solution: performing pre-checks of the equipment before the final installation.
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The Namibian technical team supported by the Ministry of Industry and Trade assists in launching the portable container for innovative feedmill chipping solution.

This initiative addressed the challenges posed by the overgrowth of bush trees, which hampered agricultural productivity and biodiversity. By employing AI and machine learning techniques, UNIDO was able to optimize the processing and utilization of bush biomass in an environmentally sustainable and economically viable manner.

This involved using AI to analyse satellite imagery and environmental data for efficient bush clearing, which ensures minimal ecological impact. In addition, the project focused on enhancing the local value chain by converting the cleared biomass into valuable products like biochar and animal fodder, thereby creating new economic opportunities for communities.

Going the road of innovation together

UNIDO's publication, Empowering SMEs through 4IR Technologies, jointly drafted with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Trade Centre (ITC), offers a roadmap for small businesses to integrate AI and other technologies used in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. The roadmap emphasizes the need for infrastructure development, capacity building, and policy support to ensure small businesses can effectively leverage these technologies for growth and innovation.

As AI continues to dictate the rhythm of global trade, international entities including the International Trade Centre are essential in ensuring that no business, regardless of its size, is left behind. By adopting AI-driven methods and leaning on the expertise and infrastructure provided by organizations like UNIDO, small businesses are not just surviving in the international trade arena – they are thriving.