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Access to farming equipment boosts mechanisation

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Farm equipment can supplement the need for physical labour, minimising the impact of labour shortages on small-scale farms

Agricultural technology company Hello Tractor, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, aims to improve small-scale farming practices through its app Hello Tractor, which facilitates increased access to farming equipment.

With a core focus on improving African agriculture through mechanisation, Hello Tractor aims to make its services more farmer-friendly, deepen its impact and expand its reach, says Hello Tractor founder and CEO Jehiel Oliver.

The app enables farming-equipment owners to connect with community-based booking agents to rent out their equipment through the app, consequently enabling small-scale farmers to access equipment.

Farmers make a booking through a booking agent and, subsequently, all booking requests within a region are batched to ensure the process remains expedient and profitable for equipment owners and operators.

Once booking slots are finalised, equipment operators conduct the required work at the respective farm through a pay-as-you-go pricing model, enabling farmers to reap the benefits of using the equipment at a more affordable price.

The model ensures “democratised access” to mechanisation and integrates these farmers into a digital ecosystem that prioritises timeliness, affordability, and reliability, Oliver explains.

Hello Tractor’s pricing model for equipment owners is founded on a subscription basis, ensuring that equipment owners can profitably rent out their machinery.

Incorporating insights from Oliver’s background in finance, the pricing models foster a symbiotic relationship among technology, finance and agricultural practices to “create a resilient and thriving agricultural ecosystem”, Oliver says.

Operating in 18 countries worldwide, with a main operational footprint in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda, Hello Tractor has successfully digitalised and serviced over one-million farmers, with a reach of over about 1.2-million hectares under management across Africa.

The app has led to significant boosts in farmers’ income, and job creation, contributing to economic upliftment and food security across Africa, Oliver asserts, adding that it allows for increased yields and improved crop quality, as well as reduced labour and time costs.

Hello Tractor has partnered with various companies, including nonprofit development organisation Heifer International, equipment manufacturer John Deere and financial institution Absa, to increase its operational reach.

Defining the Challenge

The company’s inception was in response to the significant challenges faced by smallholder farmers in rural areas, particularly labour shortages, owing to demographic shifts because of rapid urbanisation and ageing farm populations.

Oliver says farm equipment can supplement the need for physical labour and minimise the impact of labour shortages. However, tractors are not easily accessible to small-scale farmers in Africa, owing to a lack of availability, prohibitive costs and systemic inefficiencies. As a result, farmers plant late and under-cultivate their land, consequently losing income.

“The shocking statistic that Africa had merely 13 tractors across 100 km2 of arable land, compared with a global average of 200 tractors for 100 km2, highlighted the stark mechanisation gap we were determined to fill,” Oliver explains.

To achieve this, the company has had to navigate the complexities of the agricultural ecosystem and build a model that seamlessly integrates technology with traditional farming practices.

Oliver emphasises that Hello Tractor’s approach goes beyond transactions, as it rather aims to build trust, community and resilience among all stakeholders.

Increased Accessibility

Hello Tractor uses a small tracking device designed to “reimagine how equipment owners managed their tractors”. The device pairs with the Hello Tractor app to track various aspects related to tractor management such as equipment location, fuel consumption and maintenance.

The Fleet Management tool on the app provides real-time insights into operations, maintenance and equipment use for tractor owners. With features such as data analytics and access to finance, equipment owners can optimise their operations, contribute to their communities and increase their revenue streams, Oliver explains.

Equipment owners also have access to financing and comprehensive support services — such as the Hello Tractor hubs, which house original spares for tractors — organised agricultural training events and other support services.

A significant focus of the app’s design is ensuring inclusivity and accessibility, which is achieved through the booking agents, as the farmers can benefit from the app, regardless of their access to smart technology.

The synergy between technology and human diligence creates trust and reliability across communities, “making the dream of accessible agricultural technology a vivid reality for countless farmers”, says Oliver.

Skilled Support

Tractor operators available on the app comprise operators chosen by equipment owners and freelance operators. Hello Tractor conducts due diligence prior to registering people as tractor operators on the app to ensure operational excellence and reliability, Oliver reassures.

“For the tractor owners and the farmers, this means that they can breathe easy knowing that the operators on our app are top-notch and verified.”

With Hello Tractor following a similar model as many gig economy service providers, he adds that the agriculture sector can learn from the gig economy.

“This adoption of gig economy principles, tailored to meet the unique challenges and opportunities of agriculture, highlights a pathway to revolutionising the entire sector, especially in Africa, making it more adaptive, inclusive and forward- thinking.”

This approach can optimise resource allocation, reduce operational costs and facilitate employment opportunities, mirroring the transformative impact seen in other sectors, Oliver concludes.

Hello Tractor Services

Agricultural technology company Hello Tractor offers financing through its Tractor Financing application, operated in collaboration with select financing partners, to extend credit to youth in Hello Tractor’s ecosystem.

It also provides support services, in the form of training for farmers, equipment operators and technicians, to keep the mechanisation ecosystem running effectively in the countries in which it operates, says Hello Tractor founder and CEO Jehiel Oliver.

Further, the company provides training on sustainable agricultural practices and how mechanisation can make farming processes more productive. The company also provides training for operators on how to handle tractors to extend their life span.

Hello Tractor is partnering with several organisations to provide certified training for tractor technicians, consequently ensuring that tractor operators have access to capable, dealer-certified technicians who can service the tractors.