The book The Business Solution to Poverty argues against non-profit development and for scalable, business-like approaches to end poverty. When I reviewed the book, I saw a lot of practical wisdom in the argument, but also wondered how many such approaches could live up to the challenge. I think Hello Tractor could make the grade.
As described in this Fast Company article, Hello Tractor offers agricultural machinery designed especially for small plot farming in developing regions such as Africa.
First, there’s the design of the product itself. At 15 horsepower, it has less horsepower than American tractors. It’s also smaller and more maneuverable, and can be operated either while riding or walking behind. This makes it better suited to working small and irregular plots of land, such as the 2-3 acres farm common in Africa.
Next, there’s the pricing. Because Hello Tractor is small, it’s much more affordable to small farmers in developing countries. The company plans to offer low-interest loans to purchasers. To help offset the purchase cost, owners can rent out their tractor to neighboring farmers or earn extra income doing work for other farmers. Hello Tractor is GPS-enabled and traceable on a mobile phone, so owners know exactly where their loaned tractor is.
Farmers without tractors can request the use of a tractor through a mobile app. The app then notifies tractor owners by text message of nearby opportunities to rent out their equipment or to bid on work.
(The GPS and cloud connections also allow Hello Tractor to collect and analyze data about farm size, planting times, and other activities, which can be useful across the agricultural value chain.)
Hello Tractor promotes its products through agricultural extension projects. It also produces a radio show offering farming advice.
To truly succeed as a solution to poverty, Hello Tractor needs scalable distribution. In the tractor business, this would likely mean creating national or regional manufacturing and dealerships, much the way other brand-name farm equipment is manufactured and distributed around the world. I know that takes time and Hello Tractor is a young enterprise. I hope they achieve that scale.