Hershey Uses Mobile Technology to Reach 100% Fair Trade Goal by 2020

(3BL Media and Just Means) - Change takes time. When a company as large as The Hershey Company makes a commitment to source 100% of their cocoa supply from fair trade farms, it takes many years to achieve it: eight years, to be exact. In 2012, Hershey announced their commitment to fair trade certification for their entire cocoa supply. Activists, fair trade supporters and conscious consumers have marked 2020 on their calendars, holding Hershey accountable to that promise. So, what exactly will Hershey be doing over the next eight years to reach this goal? Everything.

Their biggest need is to increase the capacity, farming and labor practices in order to meet the large demand for fair trade certified cocoa. But in order to transform traditional farms into fair trade farms, they first must have buy-in from the farmers. And this begins with education. In partnership with the Ghana Cocoa Research Institute and the Ghana Cocoa Board, Hershey initiated CocoaLink, a unique program that uses low-cost, mobile phone technology to carry social and agricultural information—based on fair trade principles and techniques—to rural cocoa farmers. Farmers are educated on fair trade, best practices for harvesting, pruning, the use of pesticides and labor practices, including when children can and cannot participate in farming because of child labor laws.

I recently spoke with the Project Director of Hershey’s CocoaLink program in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, Tawaih Agyarko-Kwarteng.

“90% of people in Ghana own mobile phones. We realized there was an opportunity to reach farmers with agricultural information, particularly those we can’t reach easily in person,” Agyarko-Kwarteng told me.

Farmers voluntarily sign up to receive CocoaLink updates and can send messages back to the CocoaLink platform with messages and questions. If they are illiterate, they can request audible messages. The content distributed to the farmers is created by the Ghana Cocoa Board and the Ghana Cocoa Research Institute, and is seasonally and geographically specific.

“We did a lot of research to ensure the content is well-reviewed and meets the needs of the farmers. We do mid-term evaluations and tested the service with a few, pilot projects earlier this year. And, an independent researcher indicated that there was an impact on farmers’ attitudes, practices and knowledge. We saw a 40% increase in cocoa production,” Agyarko-Kwarteng said.

CocoaLink educates farmers on types of approved fertilizers and how to appropriately apply them. They text information during planting season about how to nurture cocoa seedlings. Traditional farming practices are challenged with more efficient and sustainable methods, all with the focus of increasing production. According to Agyarko-Kwarteng, most farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire do not plant in an orderly manner.

“CocoaLink texts farmers about the importance of planting in rows and in lines, and this is something the farmers are beginning to do. They are also implementing new methods of pruning which helps reduce the transport of disease and results in healthier cocoa pods on their trees,” said Agyarko-Kwarteng.

“Do you think creating buy-in through text messages is challenging to measure? How will you convince stakeholders that CocoaLink is worth the effort?” I asked Agyarko-Kwarteng.

“The work we are doing does take time and a lot of effort,” she explained. “It does get challenging to reach out to farmers in various parts of the country, and that’s across the board whether with an NGO or with the Cocoa Board or with us.  Reaching out to the farmers is something everyone is doing. In terms of the fair trade certification work happening right now, for all farmers, cocoa is something they are proud of, something they carry on from generation to generation. In my direct interaction with farmers, I have seen many farmers carry out good agricultural practices from CocoaLink which benefits their farms. They do work hard at it and they do see improvements in their production levels. We help them to see cocoa as a business to invest in. We want to help them increase cocoa production because they can use the higher incomes to invest in their children’s education or a better home.”

Agyarko-Kwarteng said it all clearly. Hershey’s goal to revamp their supply chain will take a lot of time and effort. Anything worth changing requires time and effort, and a team of committed and talented people like Agyarko-Kwarteng who know it all begins with education. One step of change at a time.

For more information on Hershey’s CocoaLink program read here.