Agri-food entrepreneurs of Africa (Part 1)

__Case study: Hello Tractor, Goodbye hoe!

Most of you know by now that I want to eradicate the ancient tool called the “hoe” in my lifetime, banish it to a museum, and replace it with innovative technologies and mechanization that help improve the lives, productivity and livelihoods of our rural farmers, especially women! A few weeks ago, one of you sent me a link about Hello Tractor, an agritech company that’s impressed me for a long time. Hello Tractor uses a shared economy business model that I told you about before… kind of like an “Uber for farmers,” but much more.

Founded in 2014 by Jehiel Oliver, a former investment banker-turned-agripreneur, Hello Tractor has already touched the lives of 250k+ smallholder farmers, most who can’t afford to own their own tractors. A social enterprise, Hello Tractor first launched in Nigeria and now also operates in Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Their goal is to reach 15 million farmers by 2025, not just across our continent but rural Asia, as well.

__With respect, let’s hope such innovative ventures put hoe suppliers out of business!!

Now all of you know about my #Re-ImagineRural vision. Jehiel Oliver is a social entrepreneur who had a similar vision, adding innovation to a rural challenge centuries old… (To give you an idea why I don’t like hoes, did you know that with a tractor, a field that might take 40 days to prepare for planting by hand can be prepped in only about eight hours?!)

Jehiel started his career as an urban professional making money in investment banking/private equity… but an entrepreneur at heart, Jehiel first left that safe path to launch a company called Aya Consulting. One thing that company focused on was finding commercial solutions to challenges faced by African farmers, especially the need for micro-loans which were very difficult to find…

Jehiel said he was hosting a seminar in the Philippines when he was first inspired to find a solution for the critical need of smallholder farmers, mostly women, to get access to farm machinery. And it was actually Jehiel’s wife who first came up with the name “Hello Tractor” over dinner one evening as they were talking about the vision…

“We wanted to highlight the social aspect of the business,” Jehiel explained, “while keeping the name simple enough so that it could be universally understood across cultures.”

__What do you see? I see that even Day #1 as a start-up, Jehiel was planning ahead to launch a scalable multinational agritech business!

So how does Hello Tractor does work?

# A farmer requests the tractor either via a digital app if he/she has a smart phone, or through “booking agents”;

# The booking agent registers the request, and the Hello Tractor platform sends it to find the nearest available tractor on the Hello Tractor platform;

# The tractor service is delivered to the farmer by the tractor (driven by a tractor operator);

# All the tractor’s work is monitored…

This monitoring is done by a special tech innovation, a GPS-like device that helps the tractor owners always know:

# where the tractor is;

# if it is being operated properly;

# if it needs maintenance;

# how much fuel it is using;

# routes it’s travelling, etc.

The platform also enables farmers to rate the service of the tractor and tractor driver, just like Uber!

The “booking agents” are a special #processinnovation of Hello Tractor services, different from Uber. Since not everyone is “connected” yet by Internet as you all know, they adapted the business model accordingly, hiring teams of tech savvy local young people through #partnerships, to be the communication links, creating new jobs along the way!

Very recently, I heard Hello Tractor has had some exciting developments…. New #partnerships with the likes of John Deere (tractors) and IBM (computers/AI with data analytics) which will enable them to provide more and better service to their customers, both the farmers and the tractor owners alike! And of course to grow and scale…

Wow!

Jehiel describes Hello Tractor’s business model as an “Uber-meets-tractor salesforce”!

When my team asked him a few days ago if he had any lessons learned he might want to share on his platform, Jehiel said:

“For entrepreneurs, both young and old, you have to have support from your customers. From here, everything else will follow, including investment. I often times hear entrepreneurs place an overemphasis on raising capital, which is important, but only useful if it helps you reach more customers with a quality product or service. Investment, within a vacuum, should never be the goal.”

Hello Platform! What lessons did you learn today?

Let’s talk.

To be continued. . .

by 14 Replies

About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

14 thoughts on “Agri-food entrepreneurs of Africa (Part 1)

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.

    When I share these case studies with you, it’s not just because I want to inspire you and celebrate the achievements of your entrepreneurial peers. I also want you to extract lessons learned for your own businesses as you make key decisions impacting how you position your company to prosper and scale, or not…

    I’ve always said that choosing #partners is one of the most important things you will ever do. If you’re interested in how Hello Tractor is trying to grow its business and serve its customers better, you’ll find this article of interest.

    “Over the next five years, through a public private partnership, John Deere plans to deploy 10,000 tractors in Nigeria, selling them to contractors who rent them out to small farmers using a platform from a company called Hello Tractor…”

    Fast followers take note!

    https://www.fastcompany.com/90227534/hello-tractor-and-john-deere-bring-10000-tractors-to-africa

    Reply
  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2.

    When asked if he had a favorite inspiring quote, Jehiel mentioned one by Mariah Watkins, the caretaker to George Washington Carver (the peanut entrepreneur/agricultural scientist who I told you about last week).

    Mariah Watkins said: “You must learn all you can, then go back into the world and give your learnings back to the people.”

    Amen.

    Reply
  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3.

    Some business ideas can be great in theory but not in practice due to factors completely out of your control such as the economic recession that happened in Nigeria in the start-up days of Hello Tractor.

    So then what must you do? Fight IN the conditions, of course!

    As Jehiel explains:

    “We’ve faced our share of challenges, but I believe the strength of our team is its ability to adapt and innovate our business model without ever losing sight of our mission. I’ll give you an example. When Hello Tractor launched in 2014, our flagship product was an affordable, ultra-low horsepower, two-wheel tractor fitted with our monitoring technology. We sold these to enterprising farmers or cooperatives, who then accessed our tractor-sharing platform to identify and service additional demand from smallholders. . .

    (However), credit markets dried up and depreciation of the local currency effectively doubled the price of our tractors, making it impossible for our customers to finance purchases.

    Perhaps more importantly, we realized that to make it financially attractive for tractor owners to use our platform, the tractors themselves would need to be able to reach more farmers over a wider distance than was feasible for our existing product.

    So, in January 2017, we made the strategic decision to focus more on our application than on the tractors themselves. This has proved a more effective model, enabling us to capture 75% of private commercial tractor inflows to Nigeria, expand to five markets across Africa through strategic partnerships, and touch the lives of 250,000 farmers.”

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/willyfoote/2018/08/14/meet-the-social-entrepreneur-behind-africas-uber-for-the-farm/#fa34f522bc56

    Reply
  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Reflection:

    Contract ploughing using shared economy models like Hello Tractor, Trotro Tractor and our own KariGo Tractor: These are game changers! I believe as this type of service is perfected, scaled and taken to every African country, we will eliminate the hoe, and send it to the museum…

    Yes, there’s a long way to go before every rural woman farmer simply calls a tractor contractor to come and plough, but it is already happening. This opens up a new AgriTech sector completely and with it ,huge opportunities for entrepreneurs:

    I see opportunities for more services along this line. Why stop at tractors? What other shared services can we #entrepreneur?

    The rural farmer will need entrepreneurs who can provide loans for ploughing, and inputs. I have challenged our Steward Bank team to be the first, but I want us to be #Fast Followed by banks supported by Central Bank policymakers.

    Market access solutions [that are entrepreneur driven] for farmer produce are slowly emerging. We need more work in this area. For example, we need storage and cold chain entrepreneurs to step up their game so we can cut out waste.

    Solutions like KariGo Transport, which provide truck delivery using the shared model, are needed for farmers.

    Hey, it’s exciting out there! What are you waiting for @RealEntrepreur?!

    Reply
  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Reflection:

    This morning I had an exciting discussion with the team working on rolling out Karigo Tractor in Zimbabwe. We were just going through the numbers:
    #1. We have 1m farmers on Ecofarmer, each with 2,5 Acres of land. We want to plough for them next season!
    That is 2,5m acres to be ploughed in 2 months.
    #2. We have 7000 tractors:
    So we can achieve 50%!

    Questions:
    “How much should we charge each farmer, to plough their fields?”

    “How do the farmers pay?”
    “May be we can finance with small loans, using our Kwenga platform”

    Then someone said:
    “If we plough using KariGo, what will the farmers do with their drought [cattle] power?”
    Answer:
    “There will be a glut of beef next year!”
    —maybe some entrepreneur will take advantage!

    Finally:
    Can we really make such a profound change in agriculture, and change a centuries old way of farming?

    Answer:
    “You are talking to the people who built EcoCash!”

    Reply
  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Reflection:
    This is how a new industry is born!
    Hello Tractor, Trotro, KariGo and others are essentially an App, just like Uber, Taxify and Vaya.
    They need guys who own tractors, and other farm equipment. Most of these are existing farmers. However as Hello realized you need to encourage entrepreneurs who become specialized “Contract Farming Contractors”:
    They own the tractors.
    We need young people to step forward and get into this business, quickly.
    Banks will have to support lending for these contractors.
    It’s all happening!

    Reply
  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Pause:

    “Behold I give you Africa!”

    Last week I made an observation that some of the most exciting new ventures in Africa have not been started by African entrepreneurs, or experienced global companies with lots of money, but by young entrepreneurs from places like America, Israel, Denmark, India, China, UK. These young entrepreneurs have come to Africa armed with an extraordinary vision, and have then raised money to turn them into great ventures.
    Some that come to mind include:
    Twiga Foods Kenya, Zipline Drones Rwanda, One Acre Fund Rwanda, Flare Ambulances Kenya.
    I highly commend what these young people have done, and I support such activities, wholly and without reservations. They are creating wealth, and jobs. They are real investors.

    I know that some of these venture are destined to be unicorns!

    Now, I want to see young African entrepreneurs @Fast Follow!
    Who says a Zimbabwean can’t go to Kenya? Who says a Rwandese can’t start their venture in Angola?
    Who? Who?
    Even if you have no money but a great venture, you must be able to go anywhere in Africa, to start—even for the first time!
    Why not?

    The most important investment we can get is a skilled entrepreneur!

    Now this is radical for some, and hard to accept, but it is the future.

    If you see an African entrepreneur on this platform with a great idea, have the courage to invite them to set up in your country!
    I’m meeting with the founder of Hello Tractor in Nairobi today, and I want to invest in his business. I want to invite him to Zimbabwe, and every country where we operate!
    @Fast Follow me: there are amazing businesses being presented here!
    Come on; what are you waiting for?!

    Reply
  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Milken Summit,
    Imagine making a pitch or presenting to a room of investors who manage funds of more than US$20Tn?!
    That is not a typo, I said Trillion!
    It is easily the most prestigious investment forum in the world. It is the only place you will bump into Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Michael Milken in the same corridor.
    This year I’m attending the MENA version of it in Abu Dhabi.
    We will be doing a panel discussion entitled:
    AFRICA:NEXT FRONTIER FOR FUND MANAGERS.
    The three panelists will be myself, Patrice Motsepe, and Michael Milken himself.
    The organizers have kindly agreed to allow us to stream it for you HERE on this platform, but not as a live event.
    We will post it in a few days.

    Reply
  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #AU Summit:
    Although I’m a member of President Kagame’s Technical Advisory team on the AU Reforms, I did not attend this year’s summit in Addis with the other members of the team.
    I will send an update on the reforms that were approved as soon as I have all the details.

    The AU Reforms Technical team is the only advisory role I have for any African leader. I do not advise any other leader in any capacity whatsoever [formal or informal].

    Reply
  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Reflection:

    Contract ploughing using shared economy models like Hello Tractor, Trotro Tractor and our own KariGo Tractor: These are game changers! I believe as this type of service is perfected, scaled and taken to every African country, we will eliminate the hoe, and send it to the museum…

    Yes, there’s a long way to go before every rural woman farmer simply calls a tractor contractor to come and plough, but it is already happening. This opens up a new AgriTech sector completely and with it ,huge opportunities for entrepreneurs:

    I see opportunities for more services along this line. Why stop at tractors? What other shared services can we #entrepreneur?

    The rural farmer will need entrepreneurs who can provide loans for ploughing, and inputs. I have challenged our Steward Bank team to be the first, but I want us to be #Fast Followed by banks supported by Central Bank policymakers.

    Market access solutions [that are entrepreneur driven] for farmer produce are slowly emerging. We need more work in this area. For example, we need storage and cold chain entrepreneurs to step up their game so we can cut out waste.

    Solutions like KariGo Transport, which provide truck delivery using the shared model, are needed for farmers.

    Hey, it’s exciting out there! What are you waiting for @RealEntrepreur?!

    Reply
  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Okolie Chuks writes,

    Strive Masiyiwa sir speaking of cutting out waste. I can across this (http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2016/11/burundi-farmer-finds-new-technique-for-preserving-tomatoes-15454?fbclid=IwAR1jQ6CXh_TMI5fJgXHglv1Xmq8ILur_Uui6U-95KespZGGaqh1s8HSgpzA) on Google and I was wowed and am looking forward to try it out.

    My reply,
    This is a true entrepreneur. I would love to meet this guy one day!

    Some of the greatest innovations in history did not come from guys with degrees in engineering and science.

    This is what entrepreneurship is all about:
    He saw a problem, and began to research a solution.
    Now you are more educated than him, and you have access to the Internet, which allows you to scan the whole world to find out how others are attempting to solve the problem you see.

    Reply
  12. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Reflection:

    The journey of 100,000 entrepreneurs!

    Last night I was thinking about the journey that helped eliminate the problem of telecommunication in Africa. Many of you are too young to remember that telephones were once available only to the super rich. Then entrepreneurs found a new technology [mobile phones], and began to roll out networks. Today millions are employed in the industry that emerged.
    Over the next few years 100,000 entrepreneurs will use solar energy and batteries to provide power to everyone in Africa. Millions of new jobs will be created.

    Another entrepreneurial journey has begun in agriculture:
    Entrepreneurs are entering the supply chain to deliver new solutions for seeds and fertilizer. Others are entering mechanization solutions like Hello Tractor. Others are looking at distribution solutions and marketing. Others will enter new solutions to marketing. Others will of course find new ways to produce more food quicker, and at higher levels of productivity than ever imagined.
    I see many of you in this journey.
    Find your place, and enjoy the journey.
    No one said it is going to be easy.

    Reply
  13. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #Pause:

    When you value entrepreneurs, your country will make extraordinary progress!

    Some of you know this story:
    After I left Zimbabwe [having been basically chased away], I received an extraordinary offer from the leader of one of the most developed countries in the world:
    “You are an entrepreneur, and we value people like you. We know that if you come here, you will create a business that will create jobs and wealth in our country.”
    It was the kindest gesture I ever had. Although I did not accept, I understood for the first time how the West and now East were truly built!
    Entrepreneurs build businesses. Just imagine what Elon Musk, an African has done for America!
    Imagine if he had come to your country, instead of the US?

    Reply
  14. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #PAUSE!

    Are you looking for a great business idea to try out in your own market?
    LOOK NO FURTHER;IT IS RIGHT HERE!
    Don’t just read what others are doing…that is not entrepreneurial!
    Act!
    Reach out to them!
    Ask them if you can partner or license their product or service for your own market!
    Meet them, set up chat rooms!
    Don’t just sit and watch. This is not a movie!
    Act!
    Today is the day you are going to start that business, or partner with someone to bring a new product into your own market.
    Then again, you might just invest in something exciting and new!

    Reply

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