CHIANG RAI -The income of hill tribe farmers has doubled from an average of Bt35,000 per rai per year to Bt70,000 per rai per year, Panachai Pisailert, the head of Doi Chaang Village in Chiang Rai province, said.
“We’re proud to be Doi Chaang hill tribes as we also have unity although we are from different tribes,” he added.
Panachai, who hails from the Akha hill tribe in Doi Chaang, founded Doi Chaang Coffee Original Co Ltd with Wicha Promyoung in 2003. It was aimed at developing the quality of life of hill tribes who stay at Doi Chaang, comprising three tribes – Akha, Lesu, and Chin Hau.
“In the past, most Doi Chaang hill tribes grew coffee and other fruits and vegetables and sold them through a middle man at a price that did not do justice to the quality of the agricultural products. As a result, the quality of life of the hill tribes was below standard, most children had no opportunity to study at a school and most of the aging people had access to only low-quality healthcare,” Panachai said.
But Wicha, who passed away some years ago, was interested in promoting the Doi Chaang coffee when he learned that the premium quality of the coffee differentiated itself from other coffee beans in the market, and it could compete in the global market. Because of Doi Chaang’s location – between 1,000 and 1,700 metres above sea level – it was suitable for growing quality Arabica coffee beans.
Since the coffee beans in Doi Chaang are of a high quality, it was a matter of figuring out how to promote the product in the market. Wicha decided to focus on the export market, seeing stronger demand in overseas markets for premium coffee than the potential to grow in the Thai market, where instant coffee is more in vogue than fresh coffee.
Wicha started to promote the Doi Chaang brand by send coffee beans for tasting to Europe and Canada till the brand won the geographical indications (GI) award at the “One Village One Brand” competition in September 2011, in Korea, hosted by APEC Intellectual Property Rights Expertsâ€™ Group. Doi Chaang Coffee also has received the EU Organic
After the Doi Chaang brand’s success overseas, the product also made inroads in the Thai market as a premium coffee brand. The coffee sells at between US$10 (Bt357) and $20 per kilogram while the average market price in the industry is between $3.50 and $4.20 per kilogram.
From only 500 rai where the coffee beans were grown 13 years ago, Doi Chaang has expanded manifold and now grows over 15,000 rai, producing 3,000 tonnes of coffee a year, half of which is exported overseas, and the rest is distributed domestically.
The project supports 12,000 hill tribes families who live in in Doi Chaang.
Panachai said that Doi Chang Coffee Original Co Ltd’s financial results still showed net loss but that was because the company was using its earnings to invest in developing the coffee quality and expanding production capacity to produce coffee beans under wet system, which requires a greater budget to develop the quality.
He was thankful to the banks and the Thai Credit Guarantee Corporation for the loans made available to expand the business for the long term.
The quality of life of the more than 12,000 families at Doi Chaang is a huge improvement in the last 13 years.
According to the business structure, Doi Chaang Coffee Original and its subsidiary have to pay 30 per cent of net income to Doi Chaang Foundation that will spend on developing the quality of life and build facilities to serve the needs of Doi Chaang people such as education, healthcare, culture, etc. This is the main idea to do the business.
“Our children have the opportunity to study; some of them go to study abroad such as Australia, US, Canada, UK etc. Our senior people also have a healthy fund for them to go to the hospital. They also get monthly income from the Doi Chaang Foundation. The results our business strategy has been a success,” he said.
“Not only has the quality of life of Doi Chaang Hill Tribes got better in the last 13 years, but the people of Doi Chaang people have unity. They do not see themselves as separate tribes. All of us are Doi Chaang people,” he added.
The company’s vision for the future is not only based on business expansion but on how to improve the quality of life of the people rather than focusing only net profit.
“For the next decade, our target is to be a sustainable corporation and to improve the quality of life of Doi Chaang people,” Panachai said.
“We are also collaborating with the Singha Group to support other communities staying on the hills of Chiang Rai to do business by following the Doi Chaang model. We hope it will inspire to improve the quality of life of lower-income people in Chiang Rai,” he added.to be sustainable corporation to improve quality of life of Doi Chaang people,” Panachai said.
“We are also collaborate with Singha Group to support with others people who stay others hill in Chiang Rai to do business by themselves likely Doi Chaang model. We hope it will inspiration to improve quality of life of lower-income people in Chiang Rai to meet with the standard and higher than standard for long term,” he added.
By Somluck Srimalee – THE NATION