My dream for farmers on tractor use
You recently won Sh165 million, together with a Nigerian entrepreneur, what does this mean for Hello Tractor?
We now have an opportunity to test widely a technology that can transform our farmers and bring on board many young people into agriculture through use of affordable farm machines. It means we can spread in various countries and parts of Africa, including in Kenya and Nigeria where we have offices. We also have footprints in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Angola, Togo, Zimbabwe and Mali.
Many smallholder farmers shun mechanisation because of high costs, can technology change this?
Majority of smallholder farmers in the continent depend on rain-fed agriculture for survival. Many have no access to reliable mechanisation that they can afford but this is the solution we are offering through this technology. A smallholder farmer doesn't need to own a tractor that he uses only two or three times a year but they can get one affordably from us.
Our app works with community agents who find a group of farmers that need services in their area and take their details including location, sizes of farms, crop types and organise their demands and book using the software which works like the Uber. Once they book, the app locates the nearest tractor owner available and indicates the day the tractor will come to deliver the services.
Is this technology the panacea to food insecurity in Kenya and across Africa?
Partly yes, because smallholder farmers can prepare and plant on time, fully cultivate their land, do top dressing, spraying and harvesting by using machines. A survey we conducted on our customers showed that about 90 per cent improved their yields and incomes by accessing tractors through our app. Within this sample group, 55 per cent were using a tractor in their field for the first time. The productivity gap that smallholder farmers face will slowly be bridged with this technology if fully embraced.
Labour is one of the biggest constraints smallholders have but through technology, this is no longer the case as farmers can till their land on time and plant, harvest and take their produce to the market. This is a motivation that is a boost to food security.
Describe the status of tractor use in Kenya?
An average of eight tractors are used per 100 square kilometres of arable land in Africa while the global average is 200 tractors. That is a massive gap that is filled by human labour but unfortunately, it is unsustainable. We must bridge this gap.
Why is the uptake of agro-digital technology still low in Kenya?
Smallholder farmers lack start-up capital, which is the engine for any entrepreneur to grow. However, there is a need to embrace digital farming as it plays a key role in influencing the supply chain, both in purchasing input and also selling their harvest. There is need for more awareness to enable farmers know that such technologies exist and how they can be used.
Why is output among farmers in Africa low as compared to the rest of the world?
African farmers are some of the most competitive. However, they don't have subsidies and risk management tools like insurance cover to compete with global farmers. African governments and private sectors need to be smarter and set aside more funds in their budgets instead of depending on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
What is your next move after winning the cash?
We plan to move to phase two of our project to raise more capital to grow the programme and to reach more entrepreneurs. Our next focus is to make sure the owners of the tractors are successful and repay their loans on time, as they will have increased traffic of farmers seeking their services. Our target is to ensure farmers receive affordable and reliable services in real-time.
We are working to bring on board new farmers and connect them with micro-finance institutions to access cheap loans and boost their production.