The Sharing Economy reaches Africa

Uber. Lyft. Airbnb. Ebay. These companies using cutting edge technology have transformed the way the transportation and hospitality industries operate. Dubbed as pioneers of the sharing economy, the emergence of information technology and online marketplaces have allowed for the optimization of resources or the sharing of excess goods and services. That is the core premise of these businesses.

There are now 17 multi-billion dollar companies in the sharing economy around the world with 60,000 employees and $15 billion in funding in the sharing economy. 12 of them including Lyft, Airbnb, and Uber are based in the United States. 1 is based in Europe and 4 are based in Asia and Australia. Of these companies, 46% are involved in the money and transportation industries while another 36% are in the goods and space sector.

Now, the agriculture sector has joined the bandwagon. Hello Tractor, the brainchild of Jehiel Oliver is an Anacostia-based U.S. company that follows an Uber business model in lending tractors to farmers in Nigeria. Oliver devised a business model where farmers send a text message to Hello Tractor’s U.S.-based dispatchers who then located the nearest GPS-embedded Smart Tractor and alert the service provider. The tractors typically arrive within three days. Farmers can conveniently prepay for the services through SMS messaging and mobile money. Payment is only released once the service is completed.

“Nigeria has one of the largest inventories of uncultivated rain-fed farmland. But much crops are lost because of labor shortages and lack of mechanization,” Oliver said. The “Smart Tractor” that his business provides to farmers comes with attachments that produces in one day what Nigerian farmers do manually in 40 days. While the tractors benefit the farmers by cutting their labor costs by two-thirds, the service providers get additional revenue as well. For a $75 daily fee, tractor owners could earn five times the average wage.

When Oliver was working in investment banking, he visited developing countries and saw microfinance models in play. “I wanted to serve the base of the pyramid – to support the people who simply needed tools to enable them to be self-sufficient,” Oliver said. “Despite all the negative news you read about the Boko Haram or Ebola, you can’t ignore Africa.” Sharing is big business that goes beyond borders.

 

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