Skip to main content

Now live! Explore the program for the upcoming 2024 Global Conference, taking place May 5-8, 2024.

Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech Finalists: Hello Erf

Stories from the Field: Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech
Meet the Finalists: Hello Erf

Pictured (left to right): Dawit Ephrem, Birtukan Kassa, Gizachew Mesfin, Alazar Michael, and Dawit Lanteyideru.

Milken Institute: Tell us about your team.

Alazar Michael: One day, I was talking to a farmer in a village while leading a commercialization project for an AgriTech product. The farmer told me, “My son, don’t consider bringing solutions for us, farmers, as a means of earning only. It is a means to get blessed.”

I have been leading AgriTech product commercialization and conducting agriculture market study and strategy development for local farmers’ organizations, corporate, and multinational development organizations for the past 12 years. Gizachew Mesfin, my co-founder for Hello Erf, used to manage marketing and supply activities for agricultural product export companies, lead product sourcing and aggregation, and find international markets. Our direct exposure to agriculture and farming communities has created the opportunity to really understand the pain farmers and the agriculture sector is going through. We founded Connect Trading PLC to shed light on this dark with a sustainable business model. Hello Erf is our first in-house developed AgriTech solution to solve problems in the agricultural mechanization sector.

What inspired you to participate in the Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech? In addition to competing for the $1 million grand prize, what do you hope to gain from this experience?

Hello Erf started in November 2018 by winning the first GIS (Green Innovation Slam) competition. While investing our knowledge, expertise, and money on product development, we were exploring possible partnerships and prizes that would create the opportunity to take Hello Erf to the next level. Most organizations were less interested in investing in ideas or MVPs (minimum viable products) that didn’t pass their proof-of-concept stage.

We found the Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech and felt if we succeeded it could be the right prize to solve our pressing challenge—get finance and prove our concept. We applied and boom—we won $10,000 in design-round prizes to conduct a field test on a site in Africa. With the first-round prize money, Hello Erf launched its product in one district.

How will your concept increase economic value to farmers in Africa?

Out of 14 million farming households in Ethiopia, only 16 percent use farm machines as a source of power input for their farming activity. The rest use animal or human labor as power input for their farms. This has caused farmers to be less productive and incur harvest- and post-harvest loss. On the other hand, there are more than 15,000 farm machines owned by individuals and farmers’ organizations. Because of lack of coordinated demand, seasonality of agricultural activities, and absence of maintenance and repair services, most of these machines are being utilized less than 40–50 percent of their potential.

Hello Erf is bridging this gap by linking smallholder farmers to mechanization service providers through its Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled digital solution. By increasing farmers’ access to mechanization, we aspire to increase their productivity, minimize post-harvest loss, and give them more time to engage in other off-farm economic activity.

What sets you apart from other teams in this competition?

The Hello Erf team developed the digital solution not only because of tech enthusiasm, but out of the desire and passion to solve the vast majority of the smallholder population’s problems in Ethiopia. Hello Erf is where product, teamwork, and strategy meet.

The team has stayed resilient in times where there was no support by investing its time, expertise, and money. Those hard times gave the opportunity to work on product refinement, market research, and user engagement. During land preparation and harvest, Hello Erf linked 996 farmers to 84 mechanization service providers. The invitation for other zones and districts for Hello Erf to expand its reach shows the perfect product market fit and the right mix of team.