You might not be aware, but we’re heading towards a global chocolate crisis. I’m not kidding – a combination of factors is driving a massive decrease in the amount of cocoa beans being grown. Today, three bodies have announced the launch of a mobile phone program designed to provide essential information to Ghanaian cocoa farmers.
What’s the story?
The tale of the cocoa shortage around the world is only going to become better known as time passes. There are a lot of sources dealing with reasons for this sources (Discovery News has an excellent article and Cocoa Shortage is a good resource, if a bit conspiracy-ish in places), but the bullet points are as follows:
- Cocoa is a very hard crop to grow – it’s extremely temperamental, and will only grow in a small number of geographic locations
- The vast majority of the world supply of cocoa is grown in West Africa, particularly the Ivory Coast and Ghana
- A combination of poor working conditions, low profits and civil unrest is leading farmers to switch crops
How does mobile factor in?
The Ghana Cocoa Board, the Hershey Company and the World Cocoa Foundation have announced a new program called CocoaLink for cocoa farmers in Ghana. It will be a two-way communication: farmers will be delivered important agricultural information via SMS and voice calls, and will be able to ask specific questions and provide feedback. Though the mobile infrastructure in Ghana is still developing, the program should be able to reach 8,000 cocoa farmers immediately on launch. Perhaps most importantly, the service will be completely free, and Hershey’s expects over 100,000 farmers to benefit from it within three years.
Critical information provided will include: improving farming practices, farm safety, child labor, health, crop disease prevention, post-harvest production and crop marketing.
What we think?
There are currently over 700,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, so the launch figure of 8,000 sounds a little impressive compared to that. But it seems like a realistic figure to me – in a country where 15% of the geography doesn’t even have a network present yet, it will take time to spread a service like this. Phones will need to be sold, and locals educated in their use, amongst other things.