IBM Research Gives Agriculture A Boost through Hello Tractor

Scientists from IBM Research and start-up, Hello Tractor, are piloting an agriculture digital wallet and decision-making tool which provides demand and supply visibility for farmers, tractor fleet providers and banks to give farmers the equipment and technology they need to build a sustainable farm. The technology was unveiled in Lagos.

In Sub Sahara Africa more than 60 percent of farms are powered by humans, with less than 20 percent provided by engines, a model which is not sustainable as food demand increases due to population growth, which is averaging 11 million per year. In addition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization 35-50 percent post-harvest losses for perishable agricultural products are incurred annually in the region due to poor planting practices.

To address this, in 2014 Hello Tractor launched a mobile platform to enable farmers to access tractor services on demand. Using a mobile app, the service aggregates tractor service requests, such as plowing, and then pairs them with recommended tractors and operators, while simultaneously tracking how many hours each piece of equipment is in the field and area serviced.

Speaking on the initiative, CEO and Founder of Hello Tractor, Jehiel Oliver said: “Through valued relationships with companies like John Deere, we’ve been very successful in increasing mechanization access in smallholder communities. To reach the next level, we need to add additional services including predictive fleet utilization and maintenance; operator and tractor scoring; financing and the crop yield forecasting”.

To achieve this, Hello Tractor turned to IBM’s research lab in Nairobi, Kenya. Scientists at the lab are working with Hello Tractor’s developers to apply several technologies, including the Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, Blockchain, IoT and Cloud, to bring new services to the app for tractor owners and dealers, farmers and banks. The new services will be tested in a pilot starting in the first half of 2019.

According to IBM, machine learning will help farmers to predict crop yields, which combined with advanced analytics and the blockchain, can be mined to develop a credit score for loans. Forecasted weather data from The Weather Company, an IBM business; remote sensing data; and IoT data from tractors will also be incorporated into the app to help smallholder farmers know when to cultivate, the quality of their farm cultivation, what to plant, and the appropriate fertilizer using remoting sensing and IoT data. In the future, the IBM AgroPad technology, developed at IBM’s lab in Brazil, could also be incorporated to determine soil quality.

In the same vein, tractor fleet owners, using machine learning and IoT will be able to view and manage fleet utilization, predictive maintenance and forecast future tractor utilizations based on history, real-time weather and remote sensing satellite data. Using a five-star rating system, tractor operators will be ranked and utilized based on their training, Owners will also have financing opportunities, for maintenance and for buying new tractors and implements using historical data.

It says tractor dealers and financial institutions can latch on the app to monitor and access the processes and know when and where to advance their services.

“Our vision is to leverage AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things to digitize, optimize, and streamline agricultural business processes to create efficiencies and new services from farm-to-fork around the world,” said Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research Africa, Dr. Solomon Assefa.


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