Sowing Self-Sufficiency in Africa With Anacostia-Based ‘Hello Tractor’

Monday, September 14, 2015

For years he had two feet planted firmly on the ground as a corporate investment banker. Now, with a little start-up money, Jehiel Oliver runs a small Anacostia-based company, with a plan to solve a big agriculture problem half a world away.

Oliver’s novel idea, a “Smart Tractor” that can be delivered with the tap of a cellphone, has the attention of far-reaching international development organizations. He has African governments looking to invest in his farming product. Even President Obama gave pause when Oliver pitched his sprouting business, called Hello Tractor, at a global summit.

By 27, Oliver was burning out on corporate banking, more intrigued with what he was reading about the microfinance revolution to support cash-poor entrepreneurs. He had dug his way out of poverty, having grown up on food stamps.

“While working in investment banking I began vacationing in developing countries and saw microfinance models in play,” Oliver said. “I wanted to serve the base of the pyramid — to support people who simply needed tools to enable them to be self-sufficient.”

He quit his job and went to Afghanistan to help the U.S. government establish a formal financial system. He gravitated toward agriculture when he worked on other development projects tied to food security, focusing on helping farmers in the Philippines mechanize their operations.

A Smart Tractor with trailer attachment can haul up to three tons of inputs (fertilizers, seeds, etc.) to the field and then cart the harvest to market. (Jehiel Oliver/Jehiel Oliver)

Then he set his sights on Nigeria, envisioning a potential breadbasket. He devised a business in which farmers send a text to Hello Tractor’s U.S.-based dispatchers, who locate the nearest GPS-embedded Smart Tractor and ping the service provider. The tractors typically arrive within three days.


Source: The Washington Post (link opens in a new window)