Mobile phones link Ghana cocoa farmers

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 18th March 2011

The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), The Hershey Company, and the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) have announced a first-of-its kind program to use mobile technology to deliver practical information on agricultural and social programs to rural cocoa farmers, and enable the farmers to ask questions and provide feedback.

The program, called “CocoaLink – Connecting Cocoa Communities,” will make use of Ghana’s rapidly developing mobile phone infrastructure and build on the existing successful WCF education and literacy programs to reach more than 8,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers and community members in 15 pilot communities in the important cocoa-growing regions of Western Ghana.

The innovative program will use mobile technology to connect cocoa farmers with useful information about improving farming practices, farm safety, child labor, health, crop disease prevention, post-harvest production and crop marketing. Through voice and SMS text messages delivered in their local language or English, cocoa farmers will receive the information at no charge. They also will be able to share information and receive answers to specific questions relating to their cocoa farming livelihoods.

“This program offers an innovative, yet simple, way to get critical information to cocoa farmers that can have a tremendously positive impact on their livelihoods and on communities, including their children,” said Anthony Fofie, chief executive officer of COCOBOD. “We are delighted to be part of a program that we believe will make a substantial difference in the Ghana’s cocoa sector.”

“Harnessing emerging technology that directly benefits farmers and their communities will dramatically accelerate the flow of information to the cocoa regions,” said Hershey Company Vice President Andy McCormick. “Because any Ghanaian farmer with a mobile phone can sign up for CocoaLink, we expect more than 100,000 cocoa farmers and their families to benefit from this program during the next three years.”

“CocoaLink is another great example of the public-private partnerships that form the basis of WCF’s programs to benefit cocoa farmers, their families and their communities,” said Bill Guyton, President of the World Cocoa Foundation.

Ghana, which has more than 700,000 cocoa farmers, now has mobile phone coverage across approximately 85 percent of its geography, including remote rural areas. Recent studies estimate that more than 65 percent of Ghana’s rural residents have access to mobile phones. CocoaLink information will be available to any cocoa farmer with access to a mobile phone. Farmers can subscribe to the CocoaLink SMS text messages by entering a one-time “short code” number into their phone.

Cocoa farmers in the pilot communities have expressed their enthusiasm about the opportunities for information-sharing the new CocoaLink program will provide. For example, one cocoa farmer in the Denchembosue community in the Akontombra District, a mother of three who owns two small farms, says the SMS text messaging will make a big difference in managing her farms. It will also allow her to check with her children’s teachers at school while she is at the farm.

COCOBOD is providing program management and oversight on the development of the agricultural information and will provide ongoing field support and ensure relevance of information throughout the cocoa growing season. The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) will provide agricultural and social content, and Dream Oval, a communications technology firm based in Accra, is providing technological support.

World Education, local partner for the WCF ECHOES Alliance’s existing functional literacy and numeracy training, also will oversee training for CocoaLink. Local trainers chosen by their communities who are already teaching literacy will also now be teaching farmers how to use the mobile technology provided through CocoaLink. Those Ghanaian trainers also will serve as a connection point for responding to farmers’ specific questions with information provided through the CocoaLink network. As part of an existing partnership agreement between WCF and the Peace Corps, Peace Corps volunteers working in Ghana will assist with logistics and program training in the CocoaLink communities (Ghana was the first country to receive a Peace Corps volunteer in 1961).

The CocoaLink program and the availability of important agricultural information will be promoted across Ghana through signage and other materials posted at local cocoa-buying stations where farmers sell their cocoa beans and within cocoa-farming communities.