Thailand’s Royal Project coffee is much sought after worldwide, bolstering production all over Thailand’s northern regions
One of the main focuses of the Royal Project in Chiang Mai was the cultivation of the coffee bean, something the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej saw as more than a viable alternative to the opium crop that was originally being farmed in Northern Thailand, especially along the borderlands with neighbouring Laos and Myanmar. Today, Thailand has become a burgeoning producer of coffee on the global market, presently ranked in third place among Asia’s top coffee producers. However, attaining this success has been no easy feat.
At the Coffee Research and Development Centre located inside the Chiang Mai University campus, Prof. Dr. Pongsak Angkasith, Head of Coffee Research and Development Project for the Royal Project Foundation, spoke about the ascent of Thailand’s coffee production, and with it, Royal Project coffee.
“We started replacing opium with fruit farming, such as peaches, but moved on to vegetables and various temperate fruits. Coffee was also one of the promising crops, so we started to grow and promote coffee to farmers. Coffee is a perennial, or what we call a permanent crop,” Dr. Pongsak noted, adding that farmers started to realize they could earn a good living, achieving an even better income than farming the poppy had given them.
“Research was key, as the cultivation of coffee was often thwarted by setbacks. Dr. Pongsak recalled, “In the beginning there was rust disease, or ‘coffee disease’ as we call it. This destroyed the coffee tree. If we couldn’t find a solution to this, the farmers would have to use more pesticides, and this would result in more costs for the farmers. We had to find a rust resistant crop.
“We carried on research until now to get a better quality of coffee and a better standard of production,” the doctor noted proudly, pointing out that coffee production in the north is expanding, now covering Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Nan, and Lampang—highland areas at 800m to 1,600m elevation. The Royal Project now encompasses 22 areas that produce Royal Project coffee. In all they produce about 500 tons annually. The coffee is bought from the farmers and sold to roasting companies, but the Royal Project also roasts its own coffee—around 50 tons a year. by James Austin Farrell
There are currently more than 4,100 Royal Project developments in Thailand, a number so large that the Office of the Royal Development Project Board (ORDPB) was created in order to maintain it. This covers not only coffee cultivation, but also research centred around food and water resource management in order to tackle such things as malnutrition and poverty.
This is aligned with the late King Rama IX’s ‘Sufficiency Economy’ theory, which not only focused on sustainable development but also encapsulated an almost epicurean philosophy which His Majesty hoped would be followed by the people of Thailand. The basis of this was to live within one’s means, and if the country practiced sustainable development then the people of Thailand would always have enough. The Royal Project initiative also included healthcare initiatives and educational initiatives, all aimed at offering a better life for people in remotes rural areas. For this and other work the King was given the United Nations Development Programme’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement award in 2006.
By James Austin Farrell