When Emmanuel Ansah-Amprofi discovered the high price of imported onions at a local market in Cape Coast, Ghana, he decided to enter the agriculture sector. The entrepreneur says he was shocked that vegetables such as onions and carrots were imported from Europe to meet demand.
“If you visit markets in Ghana, you will still find onions from the Netherlands and carrots from Belgium. This angered me, so I started the Farmers’ Apprentice in 2014; a multi-media campaign and behaviour change project designed to change the face of farming and encourage more young people into the sector,” he says.
In 2016, while searching for sponsorship for the Farmers’ Apprentice, he received an invitation from oil and gas company Kosmos Energy to join its CSR programme, Agritech Challenge. He won a competition at the event, which came with a prize of US$60,000 and a one-year incubation with Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (Mest Africa), a seed funding organisation based in Accra, Ghana.
Ansah-Amprofi realised many farmers cannot afford the average price of $30,000 for a tractor, so he started TROTRO Tractor with two agriculture enthusiasts he met at the event.
“TROTRO Tractor is the Uber for tractors. We digitally connect people in the agriculture sector to farm implements and machines. For example, you can log a request via our web-based or mobile app and have a tractor at your farm within 72 hours. This can include ploughing, harrowing and planting services or anything along the farming value chain,” he explains.
TROTRO Tractor has its headquarters in Accra, Ghana, and an administrative office in Abuja, Nigeria. It also operates in Togo, Benin, Zambia and Zimbabwe and there are currently 65,000 farmers and 3,200 tractors on its platform.
The business model
To access TROTRO Tractor services, farmers pay about $25 per acre of land for ploughing, harrowing, ridging, or planting in countries where it operates. A farmer can request a tractor and get it within 72 hours or book in advance for a specific date.
The company aggregates demand so a tractor can work on eight to 10 acres daily. Tractor owners, on the other hand, pay between $85 and $125 to be on the platform, depending on the type of equipment they operate.
“The tractor owners make 90% of all the transactions that come to the platform while we take the remaining 10%. The GPS on the tractor helps us to calculate the amount of work done and we pay only once the farmer is satisfied,” adds Ansah-Amprofi.
Growing the company
In the beginning, Ansah-Amprofi set up a team with his co-founders and visited farms. “We came across a farmer who had close to five hectares of land that needed to be ploughed. Later, we came by a red tractor during an inspection and spoke to the owner. He accepted the assignment of ploughing the farmer’s land as there weren’t any other available jobs. He was our first tractor client and went on to handle other projects in his region. Subsequently, we signed up a second and third supplier. We gave them all GPS devices for their tractors to make it easier to track and assign jobs.”
The company began advertising on social media and radio as well as participating in agricultural exhibitions. It also expanded its network of tractor owners and farmers through outreach programmes; people were assigned to communities to speak about modern farming implements and techniques.
“We thought most tractor owners knew how to plough farms, but we soon realised many didn’t understand sustainable practices,” Ansah-Amprofi explains. The company therefore adapted the platform to allow it to train tractor owners during the onboarding process.
They collaborated with GIZ, a German development agency; Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture; and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to train tractor operators. In addition, they received $250,000 from AGRA to onboard 50,000 Ghanaian farmers in a project called Financial Inclusion for Smallholder Agriculture Productivity, in partnership with an agricultural equipment services company Agro Africa Ghana.
“These collaborations gave us a lot of mileage in terms of learning. It was our first time working with developmental partners and it helped us to streamline our activities such as auditing, monitoring, evaluation and best practices that became part of the bedrock of our business success,” he adds.
TROTRO Tractor did not have funding issues like many other businesses at the outset. However, its major challenge was a lack of internet connectivity in rural areas. To address the problem, the company met with telecom service providers and developed a USSD code that works on all phones and is not dependent on internet connectivity.
“The USSD is toll-free and each country where we operate has a unique code. When somebody places a request, it appears on our dashboard, where we process and capture the data for subsequent uses. This is how we register the farmers on our platform.”
TROTRO Tractor has plans to partner with African governments to improve food production through mechanised farming. The company will focus on East Africa and Francophone countries in West Africa in the next few years.
“Africa needs to get it right. Nigeria alone has about 35 million hectares of arable land but needs close to 190,000 tractors to be able to meet the mechanisation needs of its farmers. Ghana needs 17,000. This is the reason we still have low harvests despite our vast land and good weather.
“Through digitaliastion, we stand a chance to solve the problem of food sufficiency in Africa. We need to do more in terms of post-harvest losses. I believe if we have improved farm power, better farming methods and access to patient finance, we will see more young people enter the agriculture value chain. The image of farming with hoes and cutlasses is no longer appealing,” Ansah-Amprofi notes.
credit – howwemadeitinafrica.com