Hershey Hosts Cocoa Summit

Aims to restore cocoa farming in Mexico.

The Hershey Co. Summit is bringing together farmers, researchers, industry and government to improve livelihoods of small-scale cocoa farmers.

A little more than a year after announcing an innovative initiative to restore Mexico’s beleaguered cocoa farming industry, The Hershey Co. and cocoa supplier Agroindustrias Unidas de Cacao SA de CV (AMCO) are hosting a Cocoa Summit to bring together a wide range of stakeholders committed to saving Mexico’s cocoa industry.

The July 13 summit in Tapachula, Chiapas, marks the next phase of “The Mexico Cocoa Project.” The 10-year, $2.8 million initiative will provide training in farm renovation and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) along with the distribution of hundreds of thousands of disease-tolerant cocoa trees to restore more than 1,000 hectares of cocoa farmland in the Chiapas region of Southern Mexico that have been devastated by tree disease. The effort intends to quadruple yields, substantially increase family incomes and contribute to the worldwide supply of sustainable cocoa.

“The summit will be an important means to reach out to the various stakeholders who are critical to bringing back cocoa farming in Mexico and supporting the family cocoa farmers,” said Hector de la Barreda, vice president and general manager for Hershey Mexico and Central America. “From farmers to producers to government and research institutes, this symposium on cocoa will bring together the right people to begin the process of replanting and restoring cocoa farming in the same area where the ancient Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs first cultivated cocoa as a food.”

The Cocoa Summit is a key milestone for the decade-long project, which began in the summer of 2012. Hershey and AMCO are hosting cocoa farmers and their families from the Chiapas region of Mexico at a forum for sharing information about cocoa-growing best practices, success stories and testimonies that create the foundations for success restoring sustainable cocoa farming in the region for the long term.

Since the project began more than a year ago, Hershey and AMCO have built and maintained nurseries to grow disease-resistant tree stock. The area has been hard hit by Moniliasis, also known as frosty pod rot, a disease that attacks the fruit of the cacao tree, causing its cocoa beans to become unusable. As a result, cocoa yields in the area have dropped by nearly half since 2005.

Following the summit, the partners will begin distributing the first 100,000 disease-resistant trees to cocoa farmers to begin the rehabilitation of the region’s cocoa plantations.

“This summit is a great opportunity after more than a year of hard work to share the great progress we have made with the producers, build on farmers’ commitment to restore their cocoa farms and regain pride for cocoa growing in the region,” said Tonathiu Acevedo, director of AMCO. “A summit with so many important stakeholders demonstrates the power of what happens when all interested parties come together around a common cause with a goal of benefiting farm families, communities and consumers who love chocolate.”

The inaugural cocoa summit will help raise awareness among Mexican farmers and across the country about the work under way to return the Mexico cocoa industry to a thriving business. The program partners also hope to grow interest among young adults in working in the cocoa industry.

Participating farmers will be trained in the highest standards of sustainable cocoa and labor practices that will enable them to be certified by third-party cocoa certification NGOs. Farmers who receive cocoa trees and training through the program are free to sell their cocoa to whomever they choose.

“We have a strong and growing Hershey business here in Mexico serving local consumers for more than 40 years and our employees in Mexico are very proud to be part of an effort to improve the livelihoods of local cocoa farmers,” added de la Barreda. “We are also very proud about the fact that today we are already using Chiapas cocoa in our chocolate in Mexico and we look forward to the opportunity to increase the use of this delicious, high-quality Mexican cocoa in our products and complete full end-to-end sustainability to our Mexico chocolate manufacturing, from certified cocoa through chocolate produced under our high-quality, ethical manufacturing standards.”

Hershey’s growth in Mexico is part of the company’s strategic vision to grow its international business through key focus markets, including Mexico.

The Mexico Cocoa Project is one of The Hershey Co.’s numerous cocoa sustainability programs around the world as part of its “21st Century Cocoa Plan” and the company’s deep commitment to corporate social responsibility and the environment. The plan addresses an ongoing concern of the cocoa industry, which is supporting the long-term sustainability of the world’s cocoa supply. Last year, Hershey committed to using 100% certified cocoa in its products globally by 2020. Hershey’s percentage of certified cocoa will surpass 10% of its total cocoa volume this year and increase to between 40% and 50% by 2016.

Cocoa was first domesticated and used as a food about 3,500 years ago (around 1500 B.C.) in the tropical lowlands of South Central Mexico by an ancient civilization called the Olmecs. They believed the seeds they called kakawa or cacao gave them health and power. Cocoa use in southern Mexico also traces back to the Mesoamerica cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs, who considered it a “food of the gods.”

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