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One of today’s most pressing cocoa sustainability challenges is the fact that young people do not see a future in cocoa farming in West Africa. Many of their own parents do not want them to go into cocoa farming as a result of the myriad of challenges they face each day. The smallholder cocoa farmer has limited access to extension services, limited coaching support, and poor access to inputs. Professionalizing cocoa farming and making it more attractive for the younger generation to invest time and effort is critical to the sustainable future of cocoa farming in West Africa.
At The Hershey Company, we believe that in order to elevate youth, barriers to information and knowledge need to be lowered, and ways of engagement need to be more customized to the target group. This thinking is reflected in our recently launched strategy, Cocoa For Good. Recognizing the need to show youth that farming can be entrepreneurial and profitable, we collaborated with Farmerline, an agri-tech company, to develop and pilot a new mobile app service for CocoaLink, as part of CocoaAction, the industry-wide CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide strategy that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, origin Governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability.
CocoaLink originally consisted of an SMS, and then a voice messaging service, launched in 2011 by Hershey, Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and the World Cocoa Foundation. This service enabled thousands of farmers with basic-feature phones to receive regular agricultural tips in their local language. The new mobile app service builds on this work, and has been conceived and funded by Hershey in partnership with Farmerline.
Mobile penetration in Africa is higher than ever now, driving digital transformation and posing significant opportunity for accelerating change in the cocoa sector. Almost half of Ghana’s population has mobile internet access, and young people across the country are increasingly going online to play games and use apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. CocoaLink harnesses this opportunity.
The CocoaLink mobile app features courses and quizzes on climate smart agriculture and income diversification, and weather information. It also features access to finance, discounts on agro-inputs and social media linkages. Climate smart agricultural content has been integrated through partners such as the World Cocoa Foundation’s industry-recognized Climate Smart Cocoa program. CocoaLink also allows customized support during a longer period of time and upscaling to reach critical masses.
With content in the form of text, audio and visuals, the android-based smartphone application is ideal for anyone who wants to learn about cultivating a profitable cocoa farm. Through the app, users are able to review the content that they have learned through quizzes. Non-android users can also access an abridged version of CocoaLink through an Artificial Intelligence powered Farm Assistant built on top of Facebook Messenger. Upon typing “Farm Assistant Bot” in the Messenger application, users can access selected articles and quizzes and ask questions.
An engaged, motivated and well-equipped young workforce will drive transformation in the cocoa sector. We are excited that CocoaLink can help power that workforce, and help young farmer entrepreneurs running profitable farm businesses in West Africa.