Farmers' best friend: 'Uber tractors'

NIGERIA • For small-scale farmers in Nigeria, especially in the northern parts of the country, getting tractors to use on their farmlands to boost their yield has always been difficult.

Many farmers cannot afford to buy one due to the high cost, while the country's federal government, as the major supplier of tractors, meets only a fraction of their needs. The Food and Agriculture Organisation ranked Nigeria 132 out of 188 countries surveyed on agricultural mechanisation.

However, since mid-2014, the Hello Tractor project has been addressing the prevalent problem of crippling poverty and poor crop yields among small-scale farmers.

The brainchild of Mr Jehiel Oliver, an American who relocated to Nigeria to implement the project, Hello Tractor builds a network of "Smart Tractor" owners. Like ride-sharing services in developed countries, small-scale farmers can request and pay for tractor services via SMS and mobile money, as and when they need specific services.

Since it was launched in mid-2014, farmers participating in the beta period reportedly saw their yields increase by 200 per cent, using a machine that is 40 times faster than manual labour.

Nigeria has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world and there is huge pressure on the employment market to provide new jobs. So, optimising its agricultural industry is key to combating youth unemployment for the next generation.

On the impact so far, Mr Oliver told The Nation: "Farmers are reporting that having access to tractor services saves them money on land preparation while removing the labour constraints that have prevented them from planting the land that they have access to."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline Farmers' best friend: 'Uber tractors'. Subscribe