Hello Tractor: Innovating in the Agri Sharing Economy
The Internet of Things for Smallholder Farmers
By Kenneth Tong
Hello Tractor, an innovator in the WFP Innovation Accelerator’s Sprint Programme, has a bold vision to transform the future of smallholder farming in Africa through mechanization. Across the continent, farmers face some of the lowest rates of mechanization — it is estimated that there are only 13 tractors per hectare of arable land in Africa, compared to the global average of 200. Many smallholder farmers can’t afford to buy their own tractor, which translates into a lifetime of back-breaking work done by hand or by livestock, inefficiencies at crucial planting or harvesting times which are often weather-dependent, and slower processes to get produce to market and turn sales into much needed income. Without access to financial services and agricultural inputs, smallholder farmers can’t grow their businesses and escape the trap of chronic poverty.
Adapting to COVID-19 in uncertain times
The COVID-19 pandemic poses very real challenges to local farming and labour force, and exacerbates the current infestations in the East African region. Folu Okunade, Hello Tractor’s Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Operating Officer explains:
“Currently many of our communities and farmers are faced not only with COVID-19 challenges, but also the impacts of desert locusts and fall army worm infestations. Hello Tractor is responding to this triple threat by partnering with like-minded organizations to digitize last-mile input distribution, utilizing our established tractor networks to provide much needed seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.”
After consultation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and the World Bank, Hello Tractor aims to coordinate tractors for land preparation and ground insecticide application. It will draw upon its network of contacts to help organize farmer networks on anticipated labour shortages related to COVID-19, insect control experts on locusts and fall army worms, and public and private sector organizations working on these issues across the last mile. In a passionate letter to his team, Hello Tractor’s CEO, Jehiel Oliver, wrote:
“Our world is on fire. The flames of COVID-19 and the desert locust infestations are taking lives and creating disruptions to local food supplies that threaten to destabilize our region. While these challenges seem too large to do anything about, we can do our part. We have drafted a response strategy that takes the best of what we do and applies that to supporting farmers in our regions that desperately need the help.”
Car sharing connecting farmers and tractor owners
It works like familiar car-sharing apps that provide local transportation options to people who don’t own cars or only want short-term use. Forbes called them “Uber for the Farm,” where the only difference is that the vehicle is a tractor, and the customer is a farmer.
Hello Tractor creates value for commercial tractor owners too. By aggregating and accessing disjointed smallholder farmer customers, the Hello Tractor app provides the means to hire out and monitor fleets of ag machinery that may otherwise sit idle and result in lost income.
It works hard, and it works smart
Through an Internet of Things (IoT)-driven software, Hello Tractor turns regular tractors into “Smart Tractors.” Tractors are connected to a data cloud and farmers can see where tractors are located, the make/model and performance of each machine, and a calendar of availability for hiring. Tractor owners receive key insights that take the risk out of lending tractors, and increase the operational efficiency of the business, resulting in cost-savings and revenues for tractor owners.
Hello Tractor’s platform creates transparency and efficiency in the hired services market by connecting tractor owners to booking agents and farmers at each stage of the process. This makes service delivery more secure, efficient, and profitable for all stakeholders involved. As their customers have expressed, access to mechanization services increases farming yields, income, and improves overall livelihoods.
Refining for utility and route optimization
Hello Tractor’s digital solution bridges the gap between traditional farming and more technologically advanced approaches. To date, they have fitted their IoT technology on over 2,500 tractors and serviced more than 500,000 farmers since it launched in 2015.
More work remains to be done in coordinating tractor requests from disparate smallholder farmers. This would help tractor owners optimize the deployment of their tractor supply according to location and seasonal considerations, and shorten the distance and time to get equipment to farmers. In turn, route optimization and planning could add more predictability to the supply chain, reduce risk, and help build confidence among investors and financing banks.
“Coupled with the work we are doing with IBM to integrate blockchain and artificial intelligence elements to our technology, our route optimization solution will be a game changer for our customers,” said Okunade.
Partnering for scale
Hello Tractor’s unique model operating in Nigeria has attracted investment capital through John Deere Financial to support commercial tractor service providers using Hello Tractor’s technology. This partnership will result in 10,000 new tractors in the market over the next five years, which John Deere estimates will bring 9 million hectares of land into production, creating 37 million metric tons of additional food, and adding over 2 million direct and indirect jobs.
In Kenya, Hello Tractor is working with WFP, John Deere and TechnoServe to create a network of 250 high performing tractor contractors, providing them with training and technology to enable more efficient and profitable businesses, servicing more farmers, and training booking agents to drive demand within their farming communities while earning an income and a growing supply chain economy to support greater agricultural production. Its focus may be on tractors, but its impacts could be much wider, and their recent pivot to respond to COVID-19 challenges demonstrates an agility and willingness to serve the greater good, even in the most trying times.
For more information, visit: www.hellotractor.com
The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.
Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org
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