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Hello Tractor

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John Deere, the world’s leading manufacturer of farm equipment, is teaming up with Africa’s “Uber of tractors.” The company is betting on a future where farmers call for machines at the touch of a button.

“We do like to see that every farmer has access to mechanization,” says Jacques Taylor, head of John Deere in Africa.

The American company is hoping to boost sales of its famous green and yellow tractors on the continent by way of Hello Tractor. That technology features small black boxes that allow farmers to call for tractors, keep track of their movements and send information, such as fuel levels. It’s currently being tried out on 400 tractors in Ghana and Kenya. But John Deere plans to offer it to all contractors who buy its equipment in Africa.

Held back by low incomes, tiny landholdings, and a lack of bank financing, tractor numbers have long been stagnant in Africa. Mr. Taylor confirms that. “The biggest challenge at this stage is to justify the capital investment in agriculture, and financing linked to that.”

But Taylor argues that Deere’s idea could help farmers. In Africa, people who work the land often lack credit histories. That makes it hard to get bank loans to improve their businesses by purchasing land or equipment. But data from the tractor program could provide proof of a farmer’s work history.
Pascal Kaumbutho works for an agricultural business in Africa. He says, “It is one thing to walk into a bank and say ‘You know. Hey, I work very hard.’ It’s another thing to be able to show it.”
There’s no question that Africa needs more productive farms. The continent’s population is set to double by 2050. With the exception of the nation of South Africa, 80% of African cropland is still cultivated by hand and yields are half the global average.

Hello Tractor founder Jehiel Oliver sees that as an opportunity. “The global average is 200 hundred tractors per 100 square kilometers (62 square miles) of arable farm land. Africa averages around eight tractors per 100 square kilometers, Nigeria alone needs 750,000 tractors to be on the global average.”

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