Uber-Like Tractors Reinvents Farm Productivity for Africans


SAN DIEGO, California — It’s a simple equation for farmers. A lack of resources results in labor shortages, which manifests into under-cultivation, poor harvests and loss of income. Yet across Africa, affordable tractors for small farmers prevents improved farm productivity.

Hello Tractor is a low-cost uber-like tractor lease initiative designed for small farmers to utilize specific attachments for different crop varieties and farm productivity stages year round. A GPS antenna mobilizes Hello Tractor into tracking usage and gathering data on location and market trends.

Farmers can request, schedule or prepay for Hello Tractors on its booking system with a tap of the thumb. Smart tractor owners utilize an SMS messaging service and mobile money. After the rental session is done, the prepaid amount is sent to the Smart Tractor owner.

Similar to Uber, Hello Tractor’s software allows owners and farmers to communicate in the cloud. Farmers in need text the company’s dispatchers based in the U.S., who find the closest Smart Tractor and notify the service provider. Usually, tractors are delivered within three days.

In Nigeria, these types of farming resources are only supplied by grants and public funds, which has a limited scale and impact. Hello Tractor aims to provide a platform for self-sufficiency and economic growth in farm productivity across Africa offering uber-like tractors hire.

But for many small small-scale farmers, markets are inaccessible. Most of the rural population is isolated from social safety nets and poverty programs. Although governmental poverty reduction policies and investments are increasingly growing, the legislation tends to favor urban areas.

Calestous Juma, leader of Harvard’s Agricultural Innovation Policy in Africa Project, conducted research on the tractor supply worldwide. He discovered there’s an average of 200 tractors every 100,000 square kilometers, about 70,000 square miles, but there’s only an average of 13 in Africa.

There’s a controversial stigma of tractors in the developing world, but specifically Africa. The machine aids small-scale farmers in planting cost effectively and efficiently, especially if the farmer is operating alone. Where there are jobs created from farming, tractors are blamed for stealing jobs, Juma told NPR.

For those farmers who saved their earnings for years to purchase a tractor, maintenance can be detrimental to survival. Because in certain areas of Africa, it can take months to find a spare part. Oliver’s company is bridging this gap with Hello Tractor’s SMS and text services to Abuja headquarters for replacement parts.

In 2015, Nigeria reported a shortage of 73,000 tractors for farm productivity, according to the Tractor Owners and Hiring facilities Association. Before Hello Tractor, Oliver was a corporate investment banker.

His tractor delivery service has caught the eye of international development organizations worldwide. African governments are weighing investment into his farming product, and President Obama was shocked-and-awed by Oliver’s business at a global summit.

At their mere age of 27, Oliver dropped the bank booklets for research on micro financing for cash-poor entrepreneurs. Since he rose from poverty himself, using food stamps to eat, he was more than monetarily invested in this feat.

“While working in investment banking I began vacationing in developing countries and saw microfinance models in play,” Oliver told The Washington Post. “I wanted to serve the base of the pyramid — to support people who simply needed tools to enable them to be self-sufficient.”

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr


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