A History of Commitment to West African Cocoa Communities

A History of Commitment to West African Cocoa Communities

Approximately 73% of the world’s four million tons of cocoa is produced by more than two million cocoa farmers in West Africa.

Many of my chocolate and cocoa company members have been providing assistance to these farmers since the early to mid-1900s, none more than The Hershey Company which began to purchase cocoa from West Africa in 1930 and in 1948 was a founding member of an organization I formerly headed, the American Cocoa Research Institute.

Beginning in the late 1990s the chocolate and cocoa industry I represent realized that the assistance being provided through research initiatives just wasn’t enough. Cocoa farm families wanted to improve their household incomes through better farmer skills, but they needed training and access to basic services, including education for children, health care, clean accessible water and sanitation.  Together with the governments of West Africa, development and education organizations, NCA’s member companies like Hershey began working to ensure that cocoa is a viable, attractive and fulfilling way of life for future generation.

In addition to the many Hershey supported initiatives that include village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, literacy and health programs and training in modern farming techniques on October 3rd The Hershey Company announced it will source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020.  Earlier this year Hershey announced its Bliss chocolates will be Rainforest Alliance certified by the end of 2012.  Hershey’s Dagoba organic chocolate already are 100 percent Rainforest certified and its Scharffen Berger brand will source 100 percent certified cocoa by the end of 2013.

One innovative program launched by Hershey in Ghana in 2011 is CocoaLink, the first mobile phone network for cocoa farmers in West Africa.  The company, along with its partners, uses cost effective and accessible mobile phone technology to send messages about best farming practices, including appropriate roles for children.  The successful program will launch in the Ivory Coast in 2013.

Today I proudly represent Hershey, Mars, Ferrero, Nestle, Kraft/Mondelez, Barry Callebaut, ADM and Cargill on a working group of partners including the U.S. and West African governments whose goal is to eliminate child labor in cocoa growing.  Many challenges remain for cocoa farm families but companies like Hershey are making a long term commitment to setting and achieving goals to improve the lives of community members who depend on the crop that is a central and healthy ingredient in delicious cocoa and chocolate products.

Larry Graham is President of the National Confectioners Association and the NCA’s Chocolate Council.