A decade or two ago, lots of Robusta coffee was grown in Pha Pead Jai, where the weather and terrain are beneficial to the cultivation. When the coffee plants came into bloom, the valley surrounded by the plantations was infused with an enticing aroma delicious that made it an interesting tourist spot.
But a few years ago, farmers turned their attention to other crops that produce higher yields and better prices, discarding some fields to improve economic returns, intensifying production and labour and replacing the coffee with durian, rubber and palm. The result was a significant reduction in coffee plantations.
Khun Nuchan Satanthin, a farmer in Tha Sae district of Chumphon province, who still grows coffee together with other crops on more than 100 rai of land, said: “In the past, there were only coffee plants in this area. Most farmers relied on labour from the northeast during the harvest season. Workers from the northeast continued to come here to harvest coffee and sometimes we helped each other.
“There was a lot of coffee at that time, so I thought I could make a lot of money. But as society changed, so did the lifestyle. Technology arrived. People began to work in the city and finding labourers became more difficult because other jobs pay more money. And the farmers themselves don’t just grow coffee, but also durian and rubber that require chemicals to flourish. Farmers look only at the selling price and don’t understand how to calculate costs or the amount of profit they have to invest each year. They just think if the year’s output is good, they will earn more money. But when someone asks them about their actual profit or loss, they don’t know the numbers.”
Why do you still grow coffee?
Because coffee is a plant that does not require chemicals. The procedure is not complicated. You just need to pay attention to the process of harvesting and post-harvest in order to deliver quality coffee that sells for a good price. The only problems are shortage of labour and the need to pay high wages. This has caused some farmers to become discouraged when they look at the wages paid compared to the selling price.
What problems do you face in coffee farming?
In summary, production output, labour, soil degradation and water management. These are major problems because when the coffee plants are old, they do not yield as much while the soil deteriorates due to an accumulation of chemical fertiliser over the years. And the lack of available labour for the harvest means that you have to pay high wages to guarantee workers will come.
How can you solve the problem?
I solve the problems of labour, soil quality and water yield as well as I can, such as by adding fertiliser or using bio products. But when I was asked if my fields were profitable and by how much, I couldn’t give an answer because I really didn’t know how much I invested. That changed when I was given the opportunity to participate in the Coffee+ project’s “Farmer Business School (FBS)” course, I learned what I should do in terms of managing the farm and how to calculate outlay and income, on the farm and in my home.
What changes could you implement after attending the training?
The most obvious concerns the costs and profits. I know how much money this year comes in from the sale of my produce and how much I am spending on fertiliser, labour and other items. When I analyse this information, I know how I can save, for example, by mixing fertiliser by myself or making a compost of coffee grounds that can be used instead of having to buy bio-fertiliser from the market while also reducing household waste. I also learned how important it is to keep records of how much I spend and on what. Keeping note is as important as the physical farming.
Do you have any suggestions for those interested in starting a coffee plantation?
Coffee is not difficult to grow but it must be regularly looked after, using fertiliser and trimming the branches properly. Chemicals almost never need to be used in a coffee plantation; it’s a form of cultivation that can stay away from chemicals. Making notes and keeping records is also important. Writing down how much is invested is a good start as it will give us the actual costs and an accurate profit amount, as well as an analysis of the situation of our plots. Also, coffee is currently in demand in the market. The volume of domestic production is not enough. That’s why we have to import a lot of coffee. In terms of quality and taste, the coffee produced in our country can really compete with imported beans. I think coffee is still a plant that offers good opportunities.