By Blair Bruns, Account Executive, Rooster Strategic Solutions
What if a third-world farmer who plants by hand could access a tractor with a smart phone as easily as you or I hail an Uber? That’s the premise behind Hello Tractor, a new venture founded by Jehiel Oliver. I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Oliver speak in Kenya during the Illinois Ag Leadership Program’s international study seminar last month and heard his ambitious vision firsthand. And one of the most interesting aspects of Hello Tractor is the fact that it’s built on simple technology – specifically, software and machine monitoring programs that already exist.
According to Oliver, more than 220 million sub-Saharan farmers – the majority of them women – live on less than $2 per day. Tractor ownership is beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest. But access to a tractor would allow a grower to plant in 8 hours what it takes 40 days to do by hand. That could be the difference between planting before the rainy season begins or missing it altogether. Using a tractor is also cheaper than hiring laborers and the accuracy of the planter can significantly improve yields. In a country like Nigeria, which boasts more agricultural acres than the state of Texas, increased mechanization could be a game-changer.
Say “Hello” to Hello Tractor. The startup is a public-private partnership with John Deere and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development that will deploy 10,000 tractors across the country, selling them to contractors who then rent them out to small farmers. The tractors are sized to meet the demands of small farms, and each is equipped with GPS and telematics that track location, amount of work completed, fuel use, maintenance needs, and more. Farm owners can request a tractor by using a mobile app, much like calling an Uber. The tractor owner, or a booking agent working for the owner, uses the app to identify the closest tractor to the farmer and fastest route to the farm location. When the work is completed, the owner or agent is notified and sends the tractor to a new location, or brings it home for scheduled maintenance.
Because tractor owners typically run a fleet of machines, the telematics on each – and the information on each machine that is generated – are as useful to them as the tractor is to the farmer. Tractor owners can see where the machines are, what route was traveled, how much work has been done as well as the amount that remains, and how the operator is performing. Knowing the tractor’s location and operator helps reduce fraud, and tracking usage of the tractor makes it easier for the banks to create low-cost loans for tractor buyers.
The result? Oliver believes the initial deployment will allow Nigerian farmers to plant 9 million more hectares (22.2 million acres) of land into production, generating more than 37 million more metric tons of additional food. In addition to Nigeria, Hello Tractor also operates in Mozambique, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, and Bangladesh; plans are underway to move into more countries in South Africa and Asia.