In 2020, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed sanctions on AgriBank Zimbabwe and allowed John Deere to sell tractors to Zimbabwe.
As a result, JD and the Zimbabwean government entered a $51 million tractor facility after other competitors had been chased away by sanctions. However, in the US, John Deere faced a legal battle with farmers over its new tractor management software, which denied them the right to repair and replace parts on their tractors without going to a dealership for a software upgrade.
Fortunately, US courts and county governments recognized the potential inefficiencies this could cause for US farmers and ruled that John Deere must allow them to repair and replace tractor parts. However, in Africa, there are concerns that John Deere may not be giving African farmers the right to repair.
Instead, the company may be using the software to hack tractors, intentionally breaking them and forcing farmers to spend more. This could result in a loss of productivity, increased financial burden for farmers in Africa and more critically it can be used to advance U.S. sanctions
Additionally, it is possible that the US government may use this software to deny African farmers access to parts to give its farmers a competitive advantage or to implement sanctions as General Electric did with NRZ locomotives and Venezuela's Guri hydro power dam. The latter, equipped with GE equipment, is believed to have been hacked by Americans in 2022, resulting in a blackout.
Therefore, it is critical that companies like John Deere provide transparency and accountability to ensure that their technology does not harm farmers or negatively impact their livelihoods.
By Rutendo Matinyarare Chairman of ZASM.