Oliver Jehiel Talks about Hello Tractor’s Mission to Improve Income for Smallholder Farmers in Nigeria
Prior to his decision to delve fully into entrepreneurship, Jehiel had a very successful career in corporate America. He had worked in various capacities at KeyBanc Capital Markets, one of America’s leading investment advisory firms. But in 2014, he decided it was time to put his knowledge in agriculture to good use. What he did next was, however somewhat fascinating: he came all the way to Nigeria to establish Hello Tractor, an agritech startup that “connects tractor owners and farmers through a farm equipment sharing application”.
In this interview with Business Elites Africa, he spoke more on how his journey as an entrepreneur began, the problems he and his team are solving, and the challenges of doing business in Nigeria as an American. Enjoy the conversation.
BEA: Nice to finally talk to you, Mr Oliver. Kindly tell us about your background and how you became an agritech entrepreneur.
Oliver Jehiel: Hello Tractor’s central mission is to improve income for smallholder farmers. We saw an opportunity to get involved in mechanization because that’s one of the few areas in agriculture where there’s a lot of untapped commercial potential, and for me, a commercially viable solution that could scale was something I saw as really important, majorly because of my private sector background.
Prior to founding Hello Tractor, I worked in global finance and agriculture. This job took me around the world where I got exposed to emerging markets and conflict zones. The same brought me face to face with the reality of people living in dire poverty. I realised that smallholder farmers don’t have the machinery they need to fully cultivate their land. With access to a tractor, however, these farmers can plant 40 times faster at one-third the cost. Thus, Hello Tractor was born.
BEA: Your company, Hello Tractor, is solving a very specific problem in the Nigerian agriculture industry. Could you elaborate more on your activities?
Oliver Jehiel: Hello Tractor is an agricultural technology company that enables sharing of tractors across sub-Saharan Africa. We have developed a digital solution that bridges the gap between traditional farming and more technologically advanced approaches, connecting tractor owners to farmers in need of tractor services. Tractors are expensive and most farmers in Africa cannot afford one. However, if farmers have access to a tractor, that’s as good as owning one. By supporting the productivity and profitability of smallholder farmers, Hello Tractor is also providing a marketplace that helps tractor owners make more money from their tractors when they would otherwise be sitting idle.
Additionally, we recently entered into a finance project with Mastercard that will empower youth and women entrepreneurs with flexible financing to buy tractors and earn a living providing service to smallholder farmers. This will encourage investment from banks and other financial institutions who previously struggled with investing in agriculture due to a lack of transparency and data to make informed decisions, as well as increase food production in Nigeria. This novel approach to farm equipment finance will accomplish both social impact and above-market returns.
BEA: Tell us more about how your background in agriculture influenced your decision to establish Hello Tractor in 2014.
Oliver Jehiel: As previously mentioned, I had worked in the global finance and agriculture sector, where I got to see firsthand the challenges smallholder farmers face in accessing machinery to cultivate their land. I spent a lot of time with my uncle who used to work at Deere as a mechanic in Alabama but on the weekends would volunteer with Tuskegee University to train the farmers in the area. Many of these farmers were sharecroppers and even ex-slaves. My uncle would train them on the benefits of mechanization in improving their yields and income, and I found his work to be very inspiring.
BEA: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Hello Tractor, can you tell us a bit more about how the platform works?
Oliver Jehiel: Hello Tractor sells a GPS monitoring device that is installed onto a tractor. Owners can subscribe to the software-as-a-service solution app to track their tractor and monitor the work it is doing, the operator’s performance, fuel usage and maintenance needs. Our technology is powered by what is known as the Internet of Things, an extension of Internet connectivity to physical devices such as a TV or a fridge, enabling them to receive instructions over the internet and to send data back. Hence, we simply connect tractors to the internet through our GPS devices and collect important data from the machines while they work on the field. This data is then pushed to our mobile and web applications where they are displayed in a user-friendly format to provide valuable insights to tractor owners, allowing them to make better-informed decisions and increase their profitability…
EDITOR’S NOTE: Continue with the rest of the interview on page 32 of our 20 Trending and most Profitable Businesses in 2021 edition. Click here to read it.
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