Writer: Potchanee Roquet, Field Advisor, Coffee+
A sharp drop in crop prices and lack of government’s continuous supports for Robusta coffee plantations in previous years have forced many small-scale farmers in the South to turn their backs on their much-loved beans to grow other economic crops instead.
However, the situation is starting to change, with large plantations being reserved for Robusta coffee beans.
More than 50 farmers from three Robusta coffee producing districts of Surat Thani province – Phanom, Ban Ta Khun and Ban Na San regularly take part in classes of the learning-by-doing Farmer Business School (FBS), jointly organized by Nestle Thai Ltd and German International Cooperation (GIZ) Thailand through the Improving Smallholder Coffee Farming Systems in Southeast Asia Project or shortly known as Coffee+.
Payungsak Chansaengsakul, the leader of farmers’ group in Phanom district said, over the past decades, several coffee growers have shifted to other lucrative plants such as rubber and oil palm.
But his faith never faded away.
“I never gave up .. I kept improving the quality of the coffee with the suggests from the specialists until I successfully upgraded the quality in line with the factory’s standard.”
But Mr. Payungsak wants to see success of other coffee farmers in his community as well.
“My first desire is to make more coffee growers work as a teamwork”.
That is when the coffee farmers’ group of Panom district was formed in 1976
During the training session, farmers learn to customize fertilizer based on the soil testing, form a group to buy farm inputs at a much lower, price prune coffee trees and adopt entrepreneurial skills.
To him, recording data of production and financial transactions plays an important role in making decision regarding their farm practices.
“Record keeping is fundamental element of a good and sustainable coffee business model.”
His remarks were echoed by Thiraphon Thumpharuk, 33, who said record keeping is the most effective habit that make her aware of income.
“I keep track of my daily production records. I keep records in a simple format. It is so easy that I pass on knowledge to the next generation of coffee growers,” said Ms. Thiraphon who quitted her corporate job to grow Robusta coffee.
Coffee is something I never thought I would choose to do in my life, she added.
While Udom Silpachatree, the 69-year-old Robusta coffee grower used to struggle to manage and maintain plantations. After learning about Coffee+ Project and attending the training courses for a while, Udom, however, decided to grow coffee and intercrop it with durian, betel nuts and bananas.
Since then, he has a stable occupation because Robusta coffee is a monocrop and intercrop.
As of now, the farmer group has more than 20 members, many of whom customize fertilizer and successfully reduced the cost of 300-400 bath (8.92-11.9 euros) per sack.
Coffee+ aims to contribute to the goals set by the national strategy for Robusta coffee – meeting the strategy’s target of 30,000 tonnes by 2021, investment cost decreased by 10% and coffee sales boosted by 10%.
Last year, Thailand could produce only 13,000 tonnes of Robusta coffee. About 19,0000 tonnes were predicted at the end of this year, far lower than the strategy’s target production of 30,000 tonnes.