Living in the world’s top two cocoa-producing countries, the importance of cocoa is apparent everywhere around us. Revenue earned from the export of this crop provides for so much, from the construction of major national roadways and bridges to the provision of sorely needed village health clinics and wells for drinking water, to a reliable source of household income. It is no exaggeration to say that millions of us in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana depend on the crop.
This is why we take climate change personally; it poses a serious threat to the well-being of ourselves and our neighbors. Current predictions state that, because of climate change, there will soon be significant changes in where cocoa can and cannot be grown in West Africa. The most vulnerable in society, including cocoa farming households, will be the first to suffer the effects of the change, making this environmental issue a human rights issue as well. Regrettably, expanding cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has resulted in deforestation, a phenomenon that is known to contribute to climate change. We are already seeing the local effects of climate change in annual rainy seasons that don’t follow usual cycles and droughts that are more severe and last longer than before.
Forests are integral to maintaining our countries’ ability to produce cocoa and are essential in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, the stress on forest ecosystems has never been greater and we have seen firsthand the quick pace of deforestation in the countries that we call home.
Hershey has always been environmentally responsible, but we are proud to see how the company is committed to being part of the solution to preserving the world’s forest ecosystem, including in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
In 2017, Hershey’s was among the first to sign the Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI) Framework of Action. In 2018, the company announced a commitment to no new deforestation in our global cocoa supply chain. Aimed at stopping ongoing deforestation and protecting forests, this commitment includes the promotion of agroforestry programs that support shade-grown cocoa through tree-planting initiatives.
CFI gives industry, governments and NGOs that care about our rich natural heritage a common language; it creates a framework and identifies specific areas of collaboration where actions are taken to protect our forests and surrounding ecosystems. CFI also makes clear what roles each of the stakeholders can and should play to preserve, protect and restore our forests. It has also brought more knowledge to the table. The more we learn as a collective, the more we can address the challenge of deforestation and climate change.
For the past few years, we have helped with implementing Hershey’s CFI Action Plans, which are part of the company’s Cocoa For Good comprehensive sustainable cocoa strategy. During this time, Hershey has supported the distribution of more than 1.3 million non-cocoa trees. This work builds on previous years’ work between 2013 and 2017, the company distributed more than 3.5 million cocoa trees and about 320,000 shade trees in West Africa.
We have also been able to draw new partners to our work. In Ghana, we partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Government of Ghana, the Nature Conservation Research Centre, and other chocolate and cocoa companies to protect a Hotspot Intervention Area (HIA) that includes the Kakum National Park, one of the country’s few remaining intact tropical rainforests. Kakum is home to antelopes, elephants, monkeys, and many other endangered plant and animal species. We chose this HIA, nearly 20 times the size of the island of Manhattan in the United States, to create an 'Open Air Learning Lab' with farmers and communities to implement a number of programs, including intensification and rehabilitation, agroforestry, land tenure, tree tenure, climate smart cocoa farming practices and landscape governance. We are excited to see farmers living in the HIA already becoming better neighbors to the park and better stewards of the land they farm.
Similarly in Côte d’Ivoire, we see cocoa farmers understanding more and more why it is important to stop deforestation and plant trees to ensure that their ability to grow cocoa, both now and in the future, is not adversely affected. We have met community leaders who express their frustrations about the effects of climate change on their communities and livelihoods. They believe that addressing climate change is a shared responsibility, and one that should be taken seriously.
We are providing these farmers with non-cocoa tree seedlings, training in agroforestry and supporting the Ivorian government’s tree planting initiatives. Farmers have a wealth of knowledge about the ecosystems in which they live and provide valuable insights about the native tree species that grow best alongside cocoa.
A healthy ecosystem is one where biodiversity flourishes and farmers grow crops, such as cocoa, in a sustainable manner. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to farmers, with different crop-growing regions facing different challenges, and a direct threat to the future prosperity of our countries. While we don’t have all the solutions to these challenges, we have seen positive results by empowering local communities to take an active role in protecting the forest, an example of Hershey’s commitment and intent are helping show a way forward.