CocoaLink, a program sponsored by Hershey, registered 45,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers in 1,800 communities, who used 1.2 million free text messages to modernize practices and increased their yields by 45.6% in three years.

That’s what the new CocoaLink Impact Evaluation in Ghana finds. So it’s no surprise that the three-year study is now claiming to have “significantly improved the behavior and livelihoods” of cocoa farmers.

CocoaLink was created in 2011 by Hershey, the Ghana Cocoa Board and the World Cocoa Foundation. It is a free, two-way information exchange where cocoa experts create text messages based on the cocoa-growing calendar.

Farmers use their own mobile phones to register for weekly messages, reflecting the sweeping technological changes in rural Ghana. CocoaLink provides timely messages on planting, pruning, fertilizer use, labor, and improving farmer and family safety.

The impact study showed statistically significant improvements for CocoaLink users, including:

  • CocoaLink farmers improved cocoa yield and associated income in 2013 with cocoa output 10 percent greater than control communities studied. Overall, CocoaLink farmers increased their yields by 45.6 percent over a three year period.  
  • Eighty-eight percent of CocoaLink farmers received conservation training compared to sixty-eight percent of non-CocoaLink farmers.
  • Sixty-five percent of CocoaLink farmers received basic literacy training—thirty-five percent higher than non-CocoaLink farmers.
  • Sixty-five percent of CocoaLink farmers received bookkeeping training—twenty-five percent higher than non-CocoaLink farmers.

Other CocoaLink improvements include:

  • Increase in general knowledge of cocoa production.
  • Highest improvements in planting information, spraying and fertilizer application.
  • Greater understanding of appropriate and safe practices for children in cocoa communities.
  • Improved agricultural practices in pruning, weeding and use of protective gear for spraying.

Surveyed farmers also indicated they viewed the information provided by CocoaLink as trustworthy and practical.

“We are very pleased that this rigorous analysis of CocoaLink outcomes so clearly shows that high-impact, affordable technology improves farming, raises incomes and provides benefits to families and communities,” says Leslie Turner, senior v.p., general counsel and secretary at Hershey.

Farmers hope for even more communication advancements moving forward.

For future improvements, the surveyed farmers expressed a preference for voice versus text messages, the ability to participate in conference calls with extension agents and a continued package of community support programs, including literacy training.

CocoaLink was managed in Ghana by World Education with technology support from Dream Oval, a Ghana software firm. The evaluation was conducted by an agricultural researcher from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and compared CocoaLink users versus non-users in 15 Ghanaian cocoa villages.

The Impact Evaluation is one of the few studies to demonstrate the benefits of using mobile phones to improve agriculture in rural West Africa. It was designed to understand how farmers using CocoaLink received and acted on information while also assessing cocoa yields at the start and conclusion of the project. Researchers also surveyed farmers on social issues, malaria prevention, female education and income improvements.

“Our success shows that we can build a digital information network that engages current and emerging young cocoa farmers in building modern cocoa farms that will strengthen the cocoa sector and supply chain,” Turner exclaims.

Hershey has committed itself to improving cocoa farming through its 21stCentury Cocoa Strategy, which is helping to support Hershey’s goal of using 100 percent certified cocoa in all its global products by 2020. Hershey currently sources at least 18 percent of all cocoa it purchases globally from certified sources.

Hershey’s third CSR report, coming this spring, will highlight key elements of the 21stCentury Cocoa Strategy, and provide perspectives from a program leader working on the ground in Ghana. The report will showcase Turner's travels to CocoaLink communities and her conversations with cocoa farmers who have benefited from Hershey’s programs that support the modernization of cocoa farming in West Africa.