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John Deere hopes to break ground in Africa through tractor-hailing tech

Video credit: Reuters Studio
Published on February 25, 2020 - Duration: 02:13s

John Deere hopes to break ground in Africa through tractor-hailing tech

The world's leading farm equipment manufacturer is teaming up with the "Uber of tractors", hoping to boost sales on the African continent.

David Doyle reports.

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John Deere hopes to break ground in Africa through tractor-hailing tech

John Deere, the world's leading manufacturer of farm equipment, is teaming up with Africa's "Uber of tractors" - betting on a future where farmers summon machines at the touch of a button.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN DEERE'S HEAD OF AFRICA, JACQUES TAYLOR, SAYING: "We do like to see that every farmer has access to mechanization." The American company is hoping to boost sales of its famous green and yellow tractors on the continent - via Hello Tractor's technology, a small black box allowing farmers to hail tractors, monitor their movements and transmit information such as fuel levels.

It's currently being trailed on 400 tractors in Ghana and Kenya - but John Deere plans to offer it to all contractors who buy its equipment in Africa.

But the risks are clear: held back by low incomes, tiny landholdings and a lack of bank financing, tractor numbers have long been stagnant on the continent.

Jacques Taylor is John Deere's head of sub-Saharan Africa.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN DEERE'S HEAD OF AFRICA, JACQUES TAYLOR, SAYING: "The biggest challenge at this stage is to justify the capital investment in agriculture, and financing linked to that." He argues the new collaboration can help as data pulled from Hello Tractor could be used by farmers - who typically lack credit histories - to secure bank loans.

Pascal Kaumbutho, chairman of agricultural services firm Agrimech Africa, agrees.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) AGRIMECH AFRICA'S CHAIRMAN AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, PASCAL KAUMBUTHO, SAYING: "It is one thing to walk into a bank and say 'You know.

Hey I work very hard.'

It's another thing to be able to show it." No loans decisions have yet been made based on such data, but with the continent's population set to double by 2050, increased productivity is a necessity.

Outside South Africa, 80% of African cropland is still cultivated by hand and yields are half the global average.

Hello Tractor founder Jehiel Oliver sees that as an opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) HELLO TRACTOR FOUNDER, JEHIEL OLIVER, SAYING: "The global average is 200 hundred tractors per 100 square kilometers of arable farm land.

Africa averages around eight tractors per 100 square kilometers, Nigeria alone needs 750,000 tractors to be on the global average." John Deere declined to comment on the cost of its tech investment.

Africa makes up just a fraction of its annual revenues of around $40 billion - which are dominated by the Americas and Europe.

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