This week the Vaya Tractor finally launched commercially after more than six months of “pre-commercial” trials. Hundreds of people attended the launch which was also attended by dignitaries, including Zimbabwe’s Minister of Agriculture, the Deputy Minister of ICT, diplomats, donor organizations, farmer organizations, and agri-supply companies. Most importantly, leading farmers from the smallholder sector were also there. Zimbabwe was chosen to be the first country for this new service, which we hope to extend to every African country within a few years. Already requests are going through the roof!
They came to witness a major historic event: We are moving to get rid of the hoe, just as I have always promised!!
Now let’s review its entrepreneurial path:
#1. Problem: What is the problem that we wanted to solve?
Mechanization in agriculture!
I first began to write about this issue more than five years ago, and I have come back to it again and again. We cannot have our mothers and our sisters breaking their backs in fields, using a technology that was invented 5,000 years ago!
But the tractor is expensive!
During the cyclone crisis we bought several tractors, at a cost of $30,000 each!
The minister in his speech this week said the experts had calculated that the country needed 33,000 tractors, and it only has about 6,000!
But 33,000 tractors will cost almost $1bn, nearly 25% of the national budget!
So how do we solve this problem?
In the United States when the government sees a problem, the first thing it does is call in its top entrepreneurs (not its top businessmen, because there is a big difference!)
Whilst we were not exactly called in Zimbabwe, we just took it upon ourselves to try and offer a hand. We saw a challenge that needed a #Solution.
Ours was to use the #SharedEconomy model (or gig economy) that I have talked about so often. Our business Vaya Logistics is the “Uber” of transportation of goods. The team there works to solve logistics problems. It is the same team that developed @Clean City Africa.
This time they were charged with developing a solution to provide full national tillage of 2m hectares with 5,000 tractors, in three months: Using mathematics algorithms, they found that 5,000 tractors is all you need to provide tillage, provided you can incentivize the owners of tractors to bring them to our platform, as well as ensure that fuel supply, and spare parts are available.
#2. Product Development (Solution Development!): taking it to the next level.
Adding a tractor service was not that difficult for Vaya Logistics, which as you will see from the website is an App that already carries about 17 services.
I have always told you that it is important to @Fast Follow, and avoid inventing the wheel. Our team studied all similar solutions around the world. The most intriguing was a startup from Ghana called TroTro. Their solution uses Feature Phones, whilst ours uses Smartphones.
__A lot of smallholder farmers don’t have smartphones, and they are our important customer of this service!
“Invite them to come and partner with you; they can share their solution, and we will teach them about our solution,” I directed our team. So the TroTro team flew from Accra, Ghana to Harare and spent weeks integrating their solution into our platform.
Now Vaya Tractor has what we call a USSD option.
Ghana has been has now been chosen as a priority country for our next full Vaya Logistics launch. The Ghana Ambassador to Zimbabwe attended the launch in Harare!
#AfricaWorks best, when it works together!
__Kick out nationalist xenophobia, tribalism, racism, religious bigotry, and gender inequality Lol!
#3. Process: Listening to the customers
Once we had developed the Vaya App, we began field trials with farmers. We even bought a few tractors of our own. By the time of the launch we had already done over 5,000 hectares. This allowed us to fine-tune the concept.
The farmers were quick to understand the importance of this concept. If you own a tractor, you can actually make more money in the year than from actual production of crops! It will bring in more players including “diaspora investors”.
We have already recruited almost 3,000 tractors, and should have all 5,000 by the end of October, if not sooner. We have now recruited 1m farmers through our Ecofarmer platform!
For a platform like this to really work, it will take close collaboration with all the key stakeholders, including the government, and the farmers.
I believe that if every tractor in the country is brought onto the platform, and fitted with a Vaya tracking device, you can basically use 5,000 tractors to provide full tillage for Zimbabwe. A new industry will emerge in which farmers no longer buy farm machinery, because why stop at tractors?!
As a tractor ploughs the land, you will know exactly where it is, and when it is idle. There will be a full audit trail. Companies that provide contract farming services have already latched onto the new service. Negotiations are taking place with a major agricultural finance bank. Seed and fertilizer companies have become core partners for obvious reasons.
This is exciting!
__#Don’t make perfect the enemy of good!
Now, as an entrepreneur you know it will not be perfect first time around. We now have to double down: Deal with bugs and logistical challenges. Encourage adoption and culture changes. It could be three or four years before it becomes common sense to simply call Vaya Tractor.
This is when entrepreneurship hits the road. We have to be tenacious. We have to raise money. We have to recruit talented people who can run with the vision.
We also have to put up with naysayers who attack you in media, and write lousy comments on your website and App page!
Please comment below, and let me know what you “see” as an entrepreneur.
Maybe it has sparked in you an idea to use this approach to solve another problem. Meanwhile visit the Vaya Africa website, and even download the Vaya App. Do so, with a pen and paper, as an entrepreneur.
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