Imagine a service in rural Nigeria, where smallholder farmers can send a text message and a tractor will appear and plow their field. Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong. Hello Tractor does exactly that, and is expanding the convenient service to more and more farmers. In Nigeria, Hello Tractor has become a success and founder, Jehiel Oliver, calls it the “Uber for tractors”. Not only does the convenience of a rentable tractor improve agricultural timeliness and monetary efficiency, but each tractor is equipped with a high-tech device to monitor the crop plot. By monitoring crop production, food security can be improved for every smallholder farmer using the service.
How does it work?
Many smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan African nations rely on manual labor to cultivate their crops. Although manual labor provides employment, it is often more expensive and requires more time than tractors. A farmer registered with Hello Tractor can simply send an SMS text to a booking agent. This booking agent will locate and schedule a device-equipped tractor and send the tractor to the plot to complete any task the farmer may need, such as plowing, tilling, or planting seeds. The tractor operator will then help any nearby farms in need of assistance, making this “Uber for tractors” a very efficient service. Hello Tractor is less expensive than manual labor and prevents unexpected delays caused by unreliable workers or unexpected weather. Food insecurity can be due to a number of factors, but one factor is planting or harvest delays which lower the output of crops. Without these obstacles, food security will increase and the risk of malnutrition and famine will decrease. The monitoring device on each tractor makes farmers aware of how much land has been worked on, the speed of crop growth, and keeps a record for future agricultural decisions. This device also alerts Hello Tractor and the contractor enterprise when a tractor has broken down or needs additional maintenance.
Hello Tractor in Kenya
With the success of Hello Tractor in Nigeria, the idea has begun to spread. When the founder of Hello Tractor and Barack Obama came to Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2016, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) wanted to get on board. A pilot program for Hello Tractor in Kenya began in 2017 after CRS went farmer to farmer to discuss interest and possibility for the program. Response to introducing the service in Kenya was very positive. When asked about farmer thoughts on using machinery versus manual labor, Gabriel Mbokothe, project director of the CRS Farmer to Farmer Program in Kenya, replied “it increases the monetary aspect in knowing how much land has been worked on, it is easier to monitor their farm ….everybody was so happy with the new technology because it is increasing efficiency.” Without having to leave the comfort of their home, farmers can receive a quality, reliable, and timely service. CRS's Farmer to Farmer project goal is to partner with five different contractors in Kenya to provide the tractors. So far they have recruited three – two in Mau Narok (southwestern Kenya) and one in Meru (central Kenya). Response from potential contractors is positive as well. These salesmen can monitor their tractors remotely and receive payments instantly, making the service very reliable for both parties.
The key to Hello Tractor is the mobile network that allows for contact with the booking agent and paying for services through mobile money. Kenya does not fall short in the mobile technology sector. When Safaricom introduced M-Pesa, the rapidly successful money transfer service, in Kenya in 2007, the population has since become very comfortable with mobile technology and mobile money. M-Pesa brings financial inclusion to the population by allowing users to send and receive money, pay bills, and buy air-time all from their mobile phone. Some farmers are more remote than others, but for Kenya, 82% of the population owns a mobile phone. Mbokothe stated, “we thought that with Safaricom this would work because the network is well spread in the country. Kenyan’s use M-Pesa, anybody in Kenya is able to pay. M-Pesa will be an additional advantage for the program.” The population’s familiarity with mobile technology may ease the implementation of Hello Tractor in Kenya as many farmers will be less hesitant when using digital payments.
Since the pilot program has been released, Mbokothe mentioned there is still a need for evaluation of those involved. In order for Hello Tractor to be successful, farmers and suppliers have to feel comfortable and confident in the program and new technology. For CRS’s Farmer to Farmer project, “The only challenge, like any other new technology, the people want to see whether the technology works.” Only time and proper training will tell how Hello Tractor can impact food security for Kenya. Although with the success in Nigeria, Kenya should not be too far behind in this agri-tech innovation. Mbothoke had the opportunity to present the project at the CRS regional agricultural team meeting in Ethiopia and sparked interest for the teams in Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Rwanda. If the convenient program catches on, Hello Tractor may be able to make a large-scale impact for food security in Sub-Saharan Africa.