The Hershey Co. has announced that more than 40,000 Ghana cocoa farmers across 1,700 villages have now registered for CocoaLink, a digital exchange network that links farmers to modern farming information that benefits families and the entire farming community.
An innovative public and private partnership between the cocoa sector and the Ghana Cocoa Board, CocoaLink is providing farmers with real-time information about coping with dry weather, pruning and pesticide applications as well as safety and health information for their families.
Messages are sent in English or Twi, a local language, and farmers can text follow-up questions or call cocoa experts for additional information.
“Before CocoaLink, my farm was very crowded and had very little sunshine,” said Susana, Ghana Cocoa Farmer, Juaboso District. “Cutting the trees was a big problem for me because I thought I was going to lose a lot of produce. However when I learnt the benefits of pruning through CocoaLink, I now am happy and the farm is doing well.”
Launched in Ghana in 2011, CocoaLink is the first dedicated mobile information program to target the country’s cocoa farmers, 80% of whom use mobile phones. To date, more than 850,000 free SMS messages have been sent to farmers.
Because information from CocoaLink is shared by farmers with their families, it is estimated that 200,000 rural Ghanaians to date have benefitted from CocoaLink messages. CocoaLink is expected to register a total of 100,000 farmers in Ghana within the next two years.
“When we launched CocoaLink in mid 2011, we saw the potential for real change and to impact lives in the cocoa growing regions, but also knew we needed to reach tens of thousands of farmers to make a meaningful difference,” said Mike Wege, senior vice president, chief growth and marketing officer, The Hershey Co. “Surpassing 40,000 registered farmers is a tremendous milestone that shows that CocoaLink has hit a critical mass in Ghana and now plays a significant role in the improvement of the cocoa sector for the entire country.”
“CocoaLink is a unique platform that has revolutionized the relationship between the extension agent and the farmer,” said Noah Amenyah, an official of Ghana Cocoa Board. “With the support of our private partners, the programme is poised to make the cost of technology exchange with the farmer cheaper, timely and relevant contributing to the long-term sustainability of cocoa production.”
The Hershey Co. has been joined by other industry partners in expanding Ghana CocoaLink, which is supported by the World Cocoa Foundation, World Education, Inc., and the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI). Hershey and ICI are collaborating to use CocoaLink for labor training to reduce the inappropriate use of labor in the cocoa regions. CocoaLink will be introduced in Cote d’Ivoire by year-end through a similar public-private partnership model.
Helping Farmers Learn
Over the past five years, mobile phone coverage has reached virtually every cocoa community, typically rural West African locations. CocoaLink reinforces key agricultural and social messages being delivered to farmers by The Ghana Cocoa Board’s agricultural extension agents. This allows the farmers to immediately apply the insight in their planting, cultivating or harvesting practices. When a farmer has a question related to a CocoaLink message, he or she is encouraged to send a text that a cocoa expert or extension agent will answer. The interactive nature of CocoaLink helps farmers get information in a convenient and cost-effective manner.
“Farmer yields can double or triple when modern farm practices are applied and CocoaLink provides a strong learning platform for farmers,” said Bill Guyton, president, World Cocoa Foundation. “We are sharing the insights from CocoaLink with our stakeholders so that we can accelerate the transformation of cocoa farmer extension services across West Africa.”
CocoaLink is also a useful tool in combating child labor in cocoa communities. CocoaLink messages reinforce public education about child safety and welfare. CocoaLink also is aligned with the priorities set by Ghana’s National Program for the Elimination of Child Labor in Cocoa.
Hershey 21st Century Cocoa Sustainability Strategy
The CocoaLink program is part of the Hershey 21st Century Cocoa Sustainability Strategy, a roadmap for how the company will work to help cocoa communities around the world grow sustainable cocoa for the next century. Hershey will combine its responsible sourcing practices to expand the supply of sustainable cocoa while investing in community programs that improve education and reduce the worst forms of child labor in West Africa.
A cornerstone of Hershey’s 21St Century Cocoa Sustainability Strategy is its commitment to source 100% third-party certified cocoa for all of its chocolate products worldwide by 2020. Hershey has already exceeded its 10% certificated cocoa goal for 2013 well before the end of the year.
To encourage the production of sustainable cocoa, Hershey has created Learn To Grow farmer and community training programs in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. For more information, please visit www.thehersheycompany.com/social-responsibility.aspx.