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Meet A Tractor That Can Plow Fields And Talk To The Cloud

At the trendy South by Southwest conference in mid-March, there was buzz about music, movies, President Obama's keynote address ... and tractors.

Why? Because there's a new, low-cost (but pretty smart) mini-tractor that's part of a business start-up in Abuja, Nigeria, called "Hello Tractor." And it was part of a SxSW competition.

What makes the tractors smart? Each one comes with a GPS antenna. So when the tractor has been used enough to need maintenance, Hello Tractor will alert the owner. Even better, the company can use data on tractor location to play matchmaker. If a certain farmer needs a tractor, the company can contact the nearest tractor owner, who'll ride over and, for a fee, perform the services needed on the neighboring farm.

The idea is so bright that the company founders raised $3 million in seed money from USAID and other sources. And so far they've sold 1,000 tractors to farmers in Nigeria at $4,000 a machine.

The entrepreneur behind Hello Tractor is a city boy: founder and CEO Jehiel Oliver, 33, from Cleveland, Ohio. He's got a masters in economics from Cornell University.

His life story doesn't exactly scream "agriculture." But a couple of years ago he became interested in the problems of the global poor, who earn much of their income on the farm. And he noticed that "most banks didn't lend to farmers."

So the idea of a cheap tractor captivated him. It fit with his lifelong goal of wanting "to make a difference in the world."


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