Forests.  Growing up, I had never really thought a lot about them. I like open spaces; beaches, the sea, mountains with far sights and clear skies. And I never hugged a tree as a child either. I did climb in them, but only for the sights I could see from a higher vantage point. 

In school they taught us about the Amazon in Brazil; the “lungs of our earth.”  They had to be saved. But those were different – they were “special forests.” Not like the family olive trees I grew up with in Crete.

Over the last 13 years, I have been involved in building a more sustainable world and three years ago, I joined The Hershey Company to make our commodity sourcing more ethical and sustainable. I know today, that there is so much more to forests than olives and climbing.  Forests are integral to our precious ecosystems; they sustain life, create habitats for the world’s creatures and preserve the health of the planet.  But increasingly, the world’s demand for certain food products are putting a strain on these global resources. And in cocoa, one of our most important ingredients for Hershey, the stress on forest ecosystems has never been greater.  

Hershey has always been environmentally responsible, but today we are committing to be part of the solution to preserving our forest ecosystem. Yes, I realize that ecosystem is a word that is difficult to grasp and not very tangible.  It’s usually used by academics who speak a language that is foreign to many of us.  But it is a word that has become important at a time when protecting the earth’s resources has never been more critical. 

In 2017, Hershey was a founding member of the Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI).  It not only gave industry, governments and NGOs who care about our ecosystems a common language; it created a framework and plans to work together to take action and protect these delicate ecosystems.  And it made the importance of ecosystems relatable for us non-academics.

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 this challenge

For the past few years, we have been developing our CFI Action Plans, which is part of Hershey’s Cocoa For Good, our comprehensive sustainable cocoa strategy.   During this time, Hershey was already taking action – doubling the trees we plant and upping our investments in multipurpose trees. This work builds on previous years’ work – between 2013 and 2019, the company distributed more than 4.8 million cocoa trees and 748,766 shade trees in West Africa.

We have also been able to draw new partners to our work. NCRC and Impactum are partners with whom we feel confident to try out new things like the Hotspot Intervention Area (HIA) in Ghana to address the most pressing deforestation issues in cocoa production. In fact, we adopted this HIA, equivalent to nearly 20 times the size of Manhattan, and created 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 practices and landscape governance.

We don’t have all the solutions, but our commitment and intent are a great starting point.  And our partners will help us lay the stepping stones to get there.  

Today, I still enjoy far sights and clear skies, but I have learned we can only make that happen by leaving trees standing, getting more trees planted and increasing carbon sequestration (yes, this is also a difficult word!). And by continuing to educate ourselves and the cocoa farmers, families and the communities we work with.