Ghanaian cocoa farmers soon will be able to have access to vital industry information right at their fingertips - literally.

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

“CocoaLink - Connecting Cocoa Communities” also will allow farmers to ask questions and provide feedback.

Andy McCormick, Hershey Co. vice president, expects more than 100,000 cocoa farmers and their families to benefit from the program during the next three years.

“Harnessing emerging technology that directly benefits farmers and their communities will dramatically accelerate the flow of information to the cocoa regions,” he says.

Information about improving farming practices, farm safety, child labor, health, crop disease prevention, post-harvest production and crop marketing will be sent out via voicemails and SMS text messages.  The notifications will be in the farmer’s local language or English, and cocoa farmers will receive the messages at no charge.

They will be able to subscribe to the text messages by entering a one-time “short code” number into their phone. COCOBOD is providing program management and oversight on the development of the agricultural information and will provide ongoing filed support and ensure relevance of information throughout the cocoa growing season.

The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) will provide agriculture and social content, and DeramOval, an Accra, Ghana-based communications technology firm, is providing technology support. World Education also will oversee training for CocoaLink. Local trainers chosen by their communities who already are teaching literacy also now will be teaching farmers how to use the mobile technology provided through CocoaLink.

The program 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.

Ghana, which has more than 700,000 cocoa farmers, now has mobile phone coverage across approximately 85% of its geography, including remote rural areas. Recent studies estimate that more than 65% of Ghana's rural residents have access to mobile phones, according to information from WCF.

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