A recent Harvard study estimates 200 tractors are in operation for every 100,000 square kilometers on average worldwide, yet in Africa, that figure dips to just 13.

Alarmed by the disparity, John Deere teamed up with Opportunity International this spring to organize a “Hack-a-Thon” competition, allowing African developers to propose affordable solutions for improving tractor availability across the continent.

Geoff Andersen, director of Regional Agriculture Strategic Planning for John Deere, says a total of 38 teams across 19 countries participated in the competition, with the top 3 winners receiving $2,000, $1,000 and $500 respectively.

Winning the grand prize, which was announced at the ICT4D Application Development Conference in Lusaka, Zambia from May 8-10, was Kenyan-based Patatinga, which developed an online platform for farmers to pool together tractor funds as a co-op and work with finance companies to structure secure payment plans.


Andersen notes the 10-year partnership between Deere and Opportunity International in Africa to improve smallholder farming and technology opportunities, making them a logical choice to expand the Hack-a-Thon footprint and get John Deere connected with local developers offering solutions

“Mechanization provides extreme value and benefits for smallholder farmers, because quite often they can’t afford to purchase the equipment themselves," Andersen says. "That mechanization needs to be provided through intermediaries. We used the ICT4D conference as a platform for us to identify some potential partners. We needed help with that too. I reached out to Opportunity International, who I know has a lot of experience in this space and a similar view as John Deere. They have people on the ground in Africa that could help us put our presence together at the conference and connect the Hack-a-Thon. We were thrilled with the submissions that we got and the three winners.”

In addition to the $2,000 prize, Andersen plans to meet with Patatinga to discuss Deere’s tractor telematics technology and potential collaboration opportunities to allow farmers access to real-time information on the functionality and efficiency of their equipment.