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Smart_Tractors
Nigeria is home to 35 million small farmers, 80 percent of whom hire laborers to help cultivate their fields. However, a shortage of labor combined with the expense of maintaining their land leads to vast under-cultivation, late planting and lost profits.

Access to better farming equipment would combat the labor shortages, but Nigerian farmers by and large cannot afford individual tractor ownership. The country lags an estimated 750,000 tractors behind the global average of tractors per 100 square kilometers of farmland.

A new company, Hello Tractor, believes they have a solution. Introducing a “smart tractor” designed for versatile use on small farms, Hello Tractor offers their product for $3,500, about the cost of cultivating 16 small farms in Nigeria.

Smart tractors are networked to the company’s cloud software, which connects tractor owners with farmers in need of equipment. Much like ride-sharing organization Uber, Hello Tractor’s sharing economy is designed to supply farmers with a low-cost, efficient alternative to time-consuming traditional labor.

“It takes about 40 days of manual labor to prepare the land,” said Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor founder. “Our tractors do it in eight hours.”

As with Uber, the Hello Tractor system operates by way of mobile technology, as the company clearly outlines: “A farmer simply sends a text requesting tractor service and our powerful software pairs that request with the nearest Smart Tractor owner in the market.”

Tractors then arrive within days of the request and enable farmers to complete the required labor 40 times more quickly than they would have been able to without tractor service. Farmers also use mobile banking to pay smart tractor owners for services, approximately one third of the cost of hiring manual laborers.

Hello Tractor asserts their smart tractors will enable higher land utilization as farmers more efficiently cultivate land, leading to a 25 percent increase in income and improved food security for Nigerian communities. The company believes that by its second year, use of smart tractors will enable 27,000 farmers to plant and harvest crops in a more timely and cost-effective manner.

They also estimate that 715 smart tractor owners and 2,500 service jobs will be created by the second year, offering those jobholders increased earning potential.

Hello Tractor also hopes to establish a lasting, sustainable system in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries. With farming resources often supplied by organizations dependent on grants and public funds, in Nigeria such equipment is limited in scale and impact. Oliver’s company hopes to promote economic growth from return on smart tractor investments and increased crop yields that will propel the nation toward greater self-sufficiency.

Based on Hello Tractor’s work, Oliver has been selected as a 2015 Echoing Green Fellow. Over the course of the next two years, fellows will receive funding ranging up to $90,000 to advance the implementation of their visions. Fellows also have the opportunity to participate in leadership development events and benefit from mentorship by top business professionals.

Oliver spoke fervently about Hello Tractor’s work: “We utilize technology to meet real needs for people that have been highly marginalized. These are women farmers who are living on, in some instances, two dollars a day or less. They have families.”

“For us to be able to bring technology to this population, to improve livelihoods, is powerful,” he continued. “And in a sustainable way. We’re really excited about it. We’re passionate about the cause.”

Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: Hello Tractor, USAID, Echoing Green, ChicagoInno
Photo: ChicagoInno

LED
People living in poverty in developing countries without traditional power sources spend 100 to 1,000 times more per unit of light than the rest of the world using a variety of fuels such as kerosene and diesel. In return, the fuel-powered light sources put off more greenhouse-gas emissions than 30 million American cars.

Solar-LED lights carry low wattages and are downsized so that the product is affordable and easy to use. With more than 100 solar-LED options, at a cost between $10 and $75, people living in poverty can reduce their energy spending in one year by purchasing these products.

SolarAid, an international nonprofit, provides solar lights to rural areas around the world to help eradicate the growing costs of using kerosene lamps. There are 598 million people in Africa who do not have access to electricity. SolarAid has provided one million solar lights for those people.

In Africa, seven million households have purchased or obtained a solar-LED light since they went on the market with over 40 companies selling the products.

Coal is often a suggested answer to problems dealing with electricity in the developing world, but the World Bank suggests that coal is not a cure for global poverty. Coal prices burden the poorest countries in the world. Also, the health impacts of coal and climate change impose consequences on people living in developing countries.

The impact of solar-LED lights on families is substantial. The lights create clean and safe lighting, which reduces the risk of fires that fuel-powered lighting has.

On average, $70 is saved every year from reducing the amount of money spent on kerosene or candles. To most households, $70 is about 10 percent of their yearly income.

Families are noticing the health benefits of switching from fuel to solar-LED lights. About half of the families that switched to solar noticed their health is improving due to the reduced indoor pollution. Coughing, chest pains and eye irritations were more frequent and common before eliminating their fuel-powered lighting.

Annually, $230 million are being saved by families, 6 million people notice their health increasing, 890,000 tons of CO2 has been averted, and children have 2 billion extra hours to study and read.

Lighting is one of the most basic human rights and solar technology is one way to reduce poverty due to lighting. In return, the investment for Solar-LED lights increases health and children’s chances to learn and study.

Donald Gering

Sources: Energy Matters, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, SolarAid
Photo: The Guardian

Digital Green Strengthens Food Security

With children suffering from malnourishment all over the world, and people hungry for food, it would be amazing if simple tools could be implemented to create substantive change. The incredible reality is that so many researched techniques have now been established, with dramatic benefits. The problem is that most small, rural farmers in the developing world do not know about them.

For example, a fern called Azolla which can be easily cultivated, if added to animal feed can boost the production of cows milk by 15 to 20 percent.  Or a System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which involves transplanting rice saplings, and tending them in a certain way, can produce marked crop increases. SRI is called one of the most important agricultural innovations of the past 50 years, yet it is only known to a fraction of farmers.

For Rikin Gandhi, one of the great paradoxes of today’s world is that information is so easily transmitted, yet efforts share life-saving information to critical people is so ineffective. This was a problem he wanted to solve. An American-born software engineer working in India for Microsoft Research, Gandhi spent six months in villages experimenting with communication formats — posters, TV shows, locally-made videos, public screenings, home screenings. His impactful discovery was that short, 8 to 10 minute videos that featured local farmers (both men and women, as most agricultural work in India are done by women) talking about their experiences was the most effective method of information dissemination. Films were screened locally with a facilitator who engaged discussion, and farmers were finally highly engaged with the new information, and consequently utilized the practices. Gandhi found that when sessions were actively facilitated, people remained and participated, if not, farmers left quickly. Farmers were more likely to adopt new practices if they heard about them from someone of a similar socio-economic background, speaking the same dialect, and without too much formal expertise.

Kentaro Toyama, Gandhi’s boss at Microsoft, set up trials to test Gandhi’s approach. Among 1,470 households in 16 villages, they found that increased adoption of some agricultural practices increased by seven-times, and the cost to get one farmer to adopt one new practice dropped by ten-times (from $38 to $3.70, with this video-based model).

So Gandhi created Digital Green – a platform and process for extending knowledge and influencing behavior. Gandhi and his colleagues established the NGO and The Gates Foundation provided support. It produces locally made videos in India’s rural areas, using locals, requiring only a battery-powered “pico” projector and mini speakers, which can fit in a backpack, then projected onto a wall or sheet – a major logistical advantage. See some here.

Today, Digital Green works in 2,000 villages in India, 100 in Ethiopia, and 50 in Ghana. Working with a variety of partners, it has produced 2,600 videos that have been viewed by 157,000 farmers. It reports that 41 percent of viewers in the last two months have adopted at least one practice. Gandhi now has 60 colleagues working with him and plans to be reaching 10,000 villages by 2015.

– Mary Purcell

Source: NY Times