development technology

Hello Tractor: smart farming for Africa

Mobile phones are one of the best documented forms of leapfrogging – when people in developing countries skip a generation of technology. In this case, many households have a mobile phone now without ever having a landline. Because smartphones are so versatile, there’s also an opportunity to skip a whole load of other things. One might take photos on a phone and never own a camera. Millions of Kenyans’ first experience of banking is mobile based, rather than a traditional account at a bank branch.

Mobile phones in the hands of ordinary Africans creates all kinds of opportunities, and this week I came across an intriguing example that draws on the internet of things and collaborative consumption, and puts them to use for African farmers.

Hello Tractor is a mobile based service that provides the use of a tractor. Inspired by collaborative consumption ideas, the company recognised that smallholder farmers in Africa don’t necessarily need a tractor – they just need tractor services. So they created a platform where farmers can text for one, and a nearby tractor owner can come over and plough a field or haul a load as required. They also created an affordable and versatile smart tractor that can be bought as an investment, ready for people to lease out as a business opportunity. Tying it all together is an app so that tractor owners can see who needs services, where their tractor is and what it’s doing.

Using a small tractor like this is forty times faster than tilling the same land manually, which means farmers can plant more land. That increases yields, generates more income, and improves food security.

Hello Tractor is operating in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. You can find out more about them here.

PS – a couple of years ago I was grumbling about the idealising of smallholder farming and said I wanted to see a vision for African agriculture that had women driving tractors. Here we are.


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