Hershey’s Learn to Grow Builds Opportunities for Cocoa Farmers Through Evidence-Based Learning and Innovative Solutions
West Africa grows about two-thirds of the world’s supply of cocoa beans. More than two million cocoa farmers in West Africa and more than 10 million West Africans depend on cocoa for a significant portion of their livelihoods. Both climate change and shifts in demand have gravely impacted the industry in this region, creating the need for companies with operations in the region to invest in the long-term sustainability of local cocoa farmers. According to Andy McCormick, Senior Director of Cocoa Sustainability at The Hershey Company, projects designed to improve farmer production and raise incomes need to be at sufficient scale.
The Hershey Company has been using cocoa beans sourced from West Africa for more than half a century for iconic products such as Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey Bars, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This connection, coupled with ongoing issues in cocoa production, led to the development of the Hershey Learn to Grow program. Launched in 2012 in Ghana, an area in which cocoa production has grown rapidly, Learn to Grow aims to “provide cocoa farmers with business skills and good agricultural practices,” says McCormick. In addition to learning more effective cocoa farming techniques, farmers have access to many of Hershey’s resources, including fertilizers and modern farming devices like satellite farm mapping and model demonstration farms. Drawing upon the success of its long-term sustainable sourcing initiatives in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, the company expanded Learn to Grow to Nigeria in 2013. “Nigeria is focused on improving its agricultural economy through water and power provision strategies, malaria prevention and education programs to targeted communities,” McCormick adds.
Hershey Learn to Grow Nigeria was developed in partnership with two members of Hershey’s supply chain, Armajaro and Source Trust, and IDH, the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative. According to McCormick, this model allows Hershey to leverage each of its partner’s respective strengths. Armajaro’s extensive sourcing networks give Hershey access and exposure to local cocoa farmers who might be a good fit for the initiative. Source Trust has excellent on-the-ground capability to work with farmers, and IDH is well-known as a sustainability leader in agricultural projects.
Learn to Grow is funded in distinct phases designed to build understanding, improve practices and double cocoa yields, explains McCormick. Phase one focuses on good agricultural practices and training, phase two on crop protection. In phase three, Hershey provides farmers with farming essentials like fertilizer and access to financing to plant new trees. Most of the farms in the program are older and need to be renovated in order to increase productivity.
All programs begin with an orientation, then project managers create a baseline survey that includes size of farm, age of trees, planting densities, and levels of disease. Learn to Grow partners evaluate and rate each farm, and all of this information is loaded into a database, which gives participants continuous access to data and growing conditions. In Ghana, knowing that 31% of registered farmers are women allows them to customize programs to fit their specific needs and interests. Each farmer has a Learn to Grow card. When they go to a supply depot, or a business service center, they swipe their card and the agent will then record all relevant data and shares the data with program administrators.
The Hershey Learn to Grow initiative creates value for each of its key stakeholders, including local farmers, wider community members, and Hershey itself. This factor has contributed to its long-term sustainability. According to McCormick, “as consumption rates of cocoa-based products increase in developing markets, there will be a long-term export market for Nigeria’s cocoa farmers.” By building relationships with these farmers and supporting education and community projects in the cocoa regions, Hershey is strengthening its ties to the community. “Hershey and the industry as a whole are working to accelerate farm modernization and increase yields and incomes for cocoa farmers,” McCormick says. While developing process improvement strategies for cocoa farmers in West Africa, he believes that Learn to Grow creates an opportunity for Hershey to continue to learn as a company and apply new insights for better farm results.
Ultimately, Learn to Grow represents only a portion of the work Hershey has done and will continue to do in West Africa. In Learn to Grow Ghana, for example, Hershey created Village Resource Centers that contain computers in small trailers accessible by both adults and children. “Children supplement their school learning, while adults can study farming techniques such as the safe and effective use of pesticides and the modern use of GPS mapping to better predict farming needs, among other topics,” adds McCormick. Learn to Grow has become an avenue for the company to raise awareness of the needs and opportunities in the cocoa regions. Employees have been very receptive to the work Hershey is doing in West Africa, some of whom even connect with students in Ghana through a real-time, distance learning program run by the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania.
Given the size and breadth of its outreach in West Africa, “Hershey is focused on projects with a measurable impact where its interventions can be demonstrated to have a positive benefit to farmers and communities,” said McCormick. Once farmers are enrolled in Learn to Grow, Hershey conducts thorough initial baseline studies of the farms, yields, trees, and use of fertilizers. These are reviewed regularly, culminating in quarterly reports that allow program managers to understand which interventions are working best and where additional training is needed. While the analysis is, by its nature, long-term in practice, early results of the training are observable. “For example, established cocoa farms often have trees crowded together, blocking out the sun. When a farmer incorporates Learn to Grow training, he or she will prune old branches, providing more light and air circulation, likely improving the output of future yields,” McCormick shares. In Ghana, Hershey sponsored a mobile phones project, called CocoaLink, which recently completed a three-year impact evaluation. “This was a carefully designed field study that compared farmers using CocoaLink with other farmers,” said McCormick. “Results showed statistically significant improvements in yields, adoption of farm practices, and acquisition of useful social and health information by those farmers who used CocoaLink.”
Hershey relies on proven methods and continuous innovation in the Learn to Grow program. McCormick believes that the “focus on innovation in these types of projects is just as important as other business endeavors and innovation is closely correlated to impact measurement.” Learn to Grow farmers have been receptive to high quality information and appreciate learning new ways to incorporate modern techniques in farming. By increasing its investment in West Africa, The Hershey Company has been able to produce value for its communities and its business alike. “Together Hershey builds farmers’ ability to benefit commercially from selling more cocoa, improves the economic vitality of the local region and increases access to certified cocoa for its buyers.”