How the Uber of Agriculture is Changing Nigeria: Hello Tractor

On a farm in Nigeria and need a tractor – just get an Uber! (Well, sort of…). Another development ag Wednesday by our fantastic partner, Christine Freak, from Grass Ceilings. Check out her impressive bio here.

Nigeria has around 35 million smallholder farmers. In the 1960s, Nigeria was self-sufficient in food, but is now a net food importer. This is despite having over 80million hectares of arable land, where only 40% is currently cultivated. Whilst there are many factors that contribute to this, major factors include labour shortages and low agricultural mechanisation. In particular, Nigeria is estimated to have a shortage of tractors – short by 73,000!

Not only do many farmers lack the machinery to scale up production, but financing a loan can be extremely difficult and costly (think interest rates over 30% – yikes). This means that many farmers resort to traditional agricultural practices which are simply no match for what modern mechanised agriculture has to offer for both quantity or quality. This is where innovation and technology comes in!

The app Hello Tractor allows farmers in Nigeria to request a tractor from nearby tractor owners. Just think of Uber for tractors! This means farmers can increase both production, and their income, leading to improvements for food security and livelihoods generally.

When a farmer is in need of a tractor, they send a request through the Hello Tractor app, which identifies nearby tractor owners, who can respond to the message request. The tractors are fitted with a GPS to make things easier. The farmers pre-pay on their phone, and once the work is completed, this money is then sent to the tractor owner.  A fun fact to remember is that more people in many parts of Africa have access to a mobile phone, than they do piped water.

The app uses Smart Tractors (valued at US$3,500) which are equipped with a GPS for tracking, and are adjusted to suit smaller plot sizes. The Smart Tractors can do 40 days worth of manual labour in just one day!

Hello Tractor costs one-third of the price of hiring manual farm labour, even considering costs for fuel, maintenance, repairs and loans.  This is mostly since tractors are estimated to be 40 times faster than manual labour. The app benefits both tractor owners who receive around  $75/hectare, and the small-holders whose profits increase from around $5 (with manual labour), to $25.

Since 2014, farmers have seen yields increase by 200%. This has had huge impacts on food availability and incomes in the region. The program is now also expanding into Ghana and Kenya.

Calestous Juma, a researcher with Harvard University and from Kenya himself, has found that Africa overall has a shortage of tractors. Globally, on average, there are 200 tractors for every 100,000 square kilometres. Yet, across Africa, this average is only 13. This suggests one contributing factor to lower agricultural production in the region. But the solution isn’t as simple as getting more tractors. Tractors are expensive, and banks rarely loan to smallholder farmers. Accessing parts and repairs is difficult, has time lags, and also expensive. Plus, tractors are also rather controversial in many rural communities as they are seen to take away local jobs.

Using technology to address these challenges can have vast effects. Hello Tractor has already received much traction, even being positively acknowledged by Barack Obama, and receiving funding from USAID, and IFAD.

Hello Tractor is just one example of some of the incredible initiatives across many parts of the world which combine technology and agriculture to make a real difference.

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