For more than a decade I've been involved, in some way or another, in programs to assist cocoa farming communities in West Africa, Latin America and Asia. With 90% of the cocoa grown in West Africa coming from nearly 2 million small family farms, many in very remote locations, farmers have a long way to go to adapt more modern farming techniques that will bring their families more prosperity.
Today's announcement from Hershey that the company is expanding its commitment to cocoa communities is a welcome one. Specifically Hershey will:
Perhaps the most newsworthy of these many announcements is that beginning this year Hershey will use cocoa from Rainforest Alliance certified farms in its Hershey's Bliss product line, a first for the company. The plan is to help farmers improve long-standing agricultural practices while preparing for the future as they learn to prepare for global warming and adapt to its impacts. As part of an overall strategy to reduce child labor, Rainforest Alliance inspectors will monitor and audit practices on farms supplying certified bans to Hershey. The Alliance will use training programs to reduce child labor and increase school attendance. School attendance is an issue in Ivory Coast farming communities where children may live a long way from a school or parents may not feel they can afford the cost of schooling.
In 2011 Hershey, along with the World Cocoa Foundation and the Ghana Cocoa Board introduced Cocoalink, a first-of-its-kind program that links farmers with helpful messages about sustainable cocoa farming and family health through two-way use of mobile phones and SMS text messaging in local languages. It's an inexpensive and effective way to help farmers increase production and improve their families' well being. Already, two out of three Ghanaian farmers use mobile phones. Based on the success of the program in Ghana Hershey will expand into the Ivory Coast reaching 300,000 cocoa farmers or roughly half of the total number of cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast over the next few years.
Hershey plans to work with partner Source Trust on Learn to Grow, a new farmer and family development center in the heart of Ghana's central cocoa region. The Learn to Grow technology center will be used by schools, farmers and the wider community and will support GPS mapping of farm acreage so that farmers will use the right amount of fertilizers for maximum yield and sustainability.
Lest you still wonder if programs like these really do help farm families consider some statistics:
*Modern farming methods and techniques increase cocoa yields by 30 to 50%
*For every 1000 farmers trained in Ghana children are voluntarily removed from hazardous forms of work
*Increased cocoa production is Ghana is linked to a 24.6% in school attendance
I like those numbers a lot; how about you?
Photo is copyright NCA, and courtesy of Donald J. Foley. Photo may not be used without written permission from the National Confectioners Association.