Can the digital revolution transform agriculture?

repost from Brookings

The world talks a lot about the digital revolution, but few connect it to the coming agriculture revolution, especially in Africa. Digital solutions have huge potential for helping farmers boost productivity and connect to financial tools and markets around the world.

Farming in the plains of northern Nigeria around Abuja requires tedious manual labor because of the lack of farm machinery. A few days of tractor use for farmers in this region could improve productivity by 20 to 40 times. However, farmers cannot afford to buy a tractor in remote rural areas of Africa. Jehiel Oliver, founder of Hello Tractor, thought that an Uber-like tractor service might be a solution. “Our booking system allows farmers to conveniently request, schedule, and prepay for tractor services from nearby smart tractor owners, through text messaging and mobile money. Once service is completed, the prepayment is automatically released to the smart tractor owner,” explains Oliver. His smart two-wheel tractors are equipped with GPS antennae that collect and transfer necessary data. The system helps to reduce tractor costs, raising farm productivity and generates additional income.

These types of innovations have the potential to affect developed countries. Whereas the number of tractors in Nigeria may be insufficient, Switzerland and Germany have a luxury problem: too many under-used tractors. But in cases of both over and under supply, tractor (and car) use could be greatly optimized using digital services.