Featured Profiles

Empowering the Agriculture Community

Jehiel Oliver is the CEO and the Founder of Hello Tractor; he is responsible for overall management and strategy. He has been honoured with numerous awards for his work in social entrepreneurship, including being recognized by Foreign Policy Magazine as a Top 100 Global Thinker for 2016. He was appointed under the Obama Administration to serve two years as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, where he chaired the technology subcommittee.

Jehiel Oliver was born in the USA and did not have a set plan to be an established leader in the agricultural sector. Instead, his first job out of college was in Real Estate Investment Banking, rising through the ranks as a financial analyst. However, this changed during the global financial crisis in 2008. Oliver saw the devastation the crisis caused due to greed and uncontrolled checks in the economy that severely impacted those victimized by a process that put profit over people. Oliver said, “It was during this time that I became keenly interested in blending profit and impact. This led me to micro-finance and how this industry was supporting underserved communities using innovative approaches to commercial lending.”

During that period, he spent time seeking answers to some critical questions. He recalled, “I began asking myself questions like what creates sustainability? Who knows best what is needed for a community to become sustainable? What kind of assistance can be provided and who should deliver the service? How can I make a difference? These were questions that were driving me to seek out alternative approaches to economic development.”

These questions eventually led him to seek out sustainable options for economic development. They got him interested in the problems of the global poor, especially farmers who earn much of their income from their produce. And yet, he noticed that most banks did not lend to farmers.

This made him think of innovative ways to help the community, and the idea of a cheap tractor captivated him. It seamlessly fit with his lifelong goal of wanting to make a difference in the world.

He spoke to his wife and some friends to get their opinions on his business idea, and the group embraced it. Since he is of Kenyan descent, they researched countries in Africa and landed on Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with vast agricultural lands. They continued their research and concluded that a cheap tractor could be life-changing for a farmer’s business. Tractors can plough in hours what a crew ploughs in days, so a farmer with a tractor can plant early enough to take full advantage of the rainy season, bringing better yields.


But the predicament lay in farmers being able to afford the Tractor since most banks did not lend to them. So Oliver devised a plan, and together with his Co-Founder, Van Jones, they developed Smart Tractor, an affordable machine with cloud connectivity. They called themselves Hello Tractor and set up the company in 2014. He said, “A typical entry-level tractor in Nigeria is 55 horsepower,” he says, “Ours is 15. [The] 55 horsepower tractor [costs] around $40,000. [Hello Tractor] is $4,000.”


Hello Tractor started with 500 tractors in Nigeria, which accounted for 75% of all tractors in the country. “Then we started to branch out from Nigeria, [and] that led to where we are now…a couple thousand tractors on the platform and a pretty large deal with John Deere,” said Oliver.


The unique business model uses the shared economy approach, allowing tractor owners to connect with farmers through the app and rent out their tractors instead of undertaking the cost to buy an expensive tractor. In addition, Hello Tractor also provides tools to enhance a tractor owner’s business and operations.


Explaining how the app works, Oliver said, “tractors are installed with a hardware monitoring device which is fitted with GPS and an international SIM card. Once the device is in place, it can transfer data to Hello Tractor’s mobile applications, where it is displayed in a user-friendly format. Our Tractor Owner App includes tools such as service request management, tractor and fleet management, operator performance, and activity tracking.”


The company has recruited and trained a network of booking agents to help farmers who are in need of tractor service. Oliver has also partnered with different organizations, outreach agencies including Mastercard and identified tech-savvy people living in or near rural villages with prior experience selling products and services to farmers to help further the cause.


Hello Tractor has expanded to eight additional African countries and has made plans to enter the Asian market. Oliver is looking to profit from the Asian market to subsidize its operations in Africa. For instance, in India, 730,000 tractors were sold in 2019 instead of only 14,000 on the entire African continent. This offers the company an excellent opportunity to enlist more tractor owners on its platform to connect them with small farmers in India and across Asia.


The company has already provided mechanization services to over half a million smallholder farmers across the markets where they currently work. Their goal is to reach an additional 14.5 million farmers over the next two years by scaling their product across sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.


Oliver said, “I set out towards this course to create a platform that every agro-preneur would want to grace its coverpage. A platform that serves as motivation to startup in agriculture and showcases the milestones and challenges of both big and small ventures in the sector. Our work is disruptive in that it is allowing farmers to grow more productively and earn more income while contributing to food security within their broader community.”