Founder and CEO, Hello Tractor
Chatting to FORBES AFRICA from Nairobi, Jehiel Oliver recalls how he started a business on the Hello Tractor platform where farmers could make up to $30,000 in bookings a year.
“I’m from the US, and started my professional career in finance,” Oliver says. “But in [my] mind, I always wanted to do work that was meaningful for my community and I came from parents who were kind of pan-African in their view of the world.”
When a young Oliver left banking and started doing consulting work, “mostly still in finance”, he looked at deal structuring for funds investing across the Global South which then led him to agriculture.
“That’s where I uncovered the importance of agriculture, the role it plays in Africa’s economy and future economic growth,” Oliver says.
Hello Tractor, a Kenya-based smartphone app that connects small-scale farmers with nearby tractor owners, was built on understanding how much access smallholder farmers have to the basic needs of farming.
According to The Economist, in sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of crops are ploughed by hand, which in turn impacts the productivity of farmers and eventual crop yield. This is why over 220 million farmers in Africa live on less than $2 a day.
Oliver reiterates that smallholder farmers don’t have the machinery they need to fully cultivate occupied land. Tractors andfarm equipment are expensive, and financing is virtually non-existent.
“For us, it was about economic growth and prosperity for these African economies,” Oliver adds, “starting in a rural sector, you have low-income populations underserviced by just about every part of the economy, and seeing an opportunity to commercially serve these economic actors, these farmers, who are also entrepreneurs themselves.
“And to serve them in a way where they can grow their productivity, they can grow their income, they can send their kids to school, and not pull their kids out of school to work the fields.”