COFFEE SUPPLY IN YALA: THE RECOVERY OF INTEGRATED COFFEE CULTIVATION IN YALA
As mentioned in the previous chapter, Yala coffee has a long history. At one time, this plant disappeared from the area and was replaced by other cash crops that farmers were encouraged to grow by the government of each era as a strategy to create jobs and incomes. However, now that the prices of those cash crops (Para rubber, palms and durians) are falling, coffee is making a return to Yala. The falling prices have a severe effect not only on farmers but also the market in general and the level of spending. Although many people in Yala have fixed incomes, they are more cautious in their spending, causing the local economy to become sluggish. With less money circulating, the economy is heading to stagnation, especially in the private sector. This problem reflects the problematic relationship of, and a mutual challenge to, each player in the economic system. Yala City Municipality is taking action to solve the problem at its “root” by studying the arable land in mountainous areas of the city. Not only that, the municipality also works outside its administrative area with farmers in several other districts on their cultivation methods which are inextricably linked to the market in Yala.
The search for a solution to the problem of the plunging cash crop price was initiated in the form of discussion involving the Mayor of Yala and Yala Horticulture Research Center, with support from the Department of Agriculture. The discussion began with a flashback to hundreds of years ago when Yala was once proudly a coffee growing area. This is an interesting start to explore the possibility of resuming this agricultural activity today.
Against the growing demand for coffee around the world, the relevant government agencies in Yala Province, led by the Provincial Agriculture Office and the Horticulture Research Center, have recently surveyed the land and found that the soil in many areas was suitable for coffee growing, and thus started a pilot plantation of Arabica coffee in the highland areas. The coffee seedlings are now planted as intercrop in between the rows of the existing crops, such as durian trees or rubber trees.
The current government’s approach to promoting coffee cultivation is different from the past. The first state-subsidized coffee cultivation program started in the 1970s, with a focus on the Robusta variety in the south and the Arabica variety in the north as replacement crops for opium. The international coffee export from Thailand officially started in 1976 following the government policy at that time. Until recently, coffee was considered “an alternative crop/ a replacement crop” and the coffee cultivation promotion policy was highly related to the conditions of the global market and thus subjected to volatility, which put the livelihood of farmers at stake because it means that farmers would have no choice but to rely on only single type of crop at a time as their source of incomes. Farmers were forced to take risks that come with monocropping and the dependence on the level of government support and policies.
Subsequently, when the world coffee prices fell due to oversupply in the 1990s, coffee farmers in Thailand were hardest hit. The government at that time, according to its five-year economic development plan (1992-1997), issued a policy to reduce the production capacity and farmland for coffee and encouraged farmers to plant another crop. It was obvious that when the new crop faced similar problems that coffee did, the government would tell the farmers to plant a different new crop. This is as if the livelihood of farmers were put onto a swing. One side is a stellar income, and the other side is poverty. This is tangible proof that sustainability has never been in the equation when it comes to the government agricultural policy.
However, Yala’s current approach to promoting coffee cultivation is different. Yala City Municipality, Yala Horticulture Research Center, the Internal Security Operations Command, the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center, and related government agencies no longer view coffee as an “alternative crop” when the main crop is experiencing a severe price decline but as “intercrop” in the integrated agricultural system based on the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. The integrated agricultural system ensures an all-year round income, including supplementary earnings, for farmers, especially when the price of the main crop is low, or the productivity is disrupted. The above-mentioned government organizations are also planning to develop key cultivation areas in Yala, covering three districts of Betong, Than To, and Bannang Sata, into the world’s premium coffee growing areas and to make coffee another important cash crop of Yala.
In order not to repeat the same mistake as in the past, the Mayor of Yala City encourages farmers to switch from monocropping to the integrated farming and establishes a strong market for coffee production. The mayor also founded the Kirikhet Coffee Company to buy coffee cherries from local farmers at a guaranteed price of 18-22 THB per kilogram. The provincial agricultural office has been giving out Robusta coffee seedlings to farmers since late 2017. Later, the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Front Division, together with the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center, Yala Horticulture Research Center and other government agencies, initiated a pilot project to bring Arabica coffee back to the southern region using Arabica seedlings from the Chiang Mai Royal Agriculture Research Center to Yala farmers who joined the project. Not only the cultivation, but the project encompassed a learning opportunity, knowledge of coffee, skill training for farmers, a seedling nursery, and many other important procedures. In addition, the Young Coffee Farmer Network (YCOT) was established. By the end of 2019, there were approximately 250 farmers and about 700 rais (1.12 KM2) of coffee plantation. It is said that Arabica coffee grows well in areas above the sea level and higher than Robusta coffee plantations. The highland is normally used by farmers in Yala to grow durians.
But it’s not just coffee that people in Yala are interested in growing as “intercrop.” There is a group led by Mr. Abdulhafiz Hile, chairman of the network of private Islamic schools in the southern border provinces, which chose to grow cocoa on the same basis of the integrated agriculture as Yala Municipality.
Mr. Hile started by setting up an innovative agricultural community enterprise and cocoa learning center at Lukmanul Hakim School in Yaha District. The group’s products – real cocoa powder and ready-to-drink cocoa beverages – are already on the form of under the brand “Koko Kita.” Baro Sub-district, where the enterprise is located, is also the target area in the “Cocoa District” development project initiated by the Southern Border Provincial Government Administration Center (SBPAC). In addition, Mr. Hile also played a role in pushing for the establishment of the Ban Po Cocoa Farming Club, which links the networks of cocoa growers in the three southern border provinces. With the support of the SBPAC, the group was able to establish its operating center and a cocoa seedling cultivation center in the SBPAC office. The cocoa seedlings are sold to members at 35THB per seedling. The sales of seedlings are quite high. In October 2020, a total of 10,500 seedlings were sold to club members who live in various parts throughout the three southern border provinces. This is an indicator that cacao cultivation is a very popular choice. Even in June 2021, as I was writing this report, and during the severe COVID-19 pandemic, there were members traveling from Raman District, Yala Province and Yaring District, Pattani Province to pick up 500 cocoa seedlings.
Not only is the club a knowledge center where farmers can learn how to grow and care for the cocoa plants, but it is also a market where members sell their produce at a guaranteed price. It even doubles as a cocoa processing center. The club buys produce from its members, and then ferments and dries the cocoa beans. Recently, the club has begun building a cocoa shop. All of these are located in Tha Sap Subdistrict, Yala District.
The reason Mr. Hile chose cocoa and not coffee is based on the global market trend analysis. He found that (1) the global demand for cocoa is enormous and growing, and partly motivated by the scientific findings of its health benefits. However, cocoa supply is still very low, so the cocoa market still has room for new competitors. This conclusion is consistent with the market analysis by the SBPAC and Cocoa Thai 2017 Co., Ltd. (2) The southern border provinces have a geography and climate similar to the Malay Peninsula and Borneo, where cocoa production is widely recognized for its quality. Cocoa from Indonesia, Malaysia, as well as Brunei is ranked as the world’s top premium cocoa. With the similar environment, the southern border provinces must be able to develop themselves and rise as one of the world’s premium cocoa producers with not much difficulty
The promotion of the cultivation of these two crops, coffee and cocoa, as intercrops in the integrated agriculture system aims to ultimately export them to the world market. This reflects that the current approach to agricultural development in Yala is now placing an equal emphasis on both the economic growth and the sustainability of livelihoods at the household level, with a focus on strengthening the local economy. I will continue to discuss this in the analysis section of the study.
Focus group discussion
Kebwai S., Director of Yala Horticulture Research Center, Yala Horticulture Research Center in Than To District, Yala, February 20, 2021.
Duangdee S., Kirikhet manager, phone call interview, February 19, 2021.
Abdulhafiz Hile, phone call interview, January 24, 2021.
Tirasoontarakul C., “Coffee Culture,” Prachachartturakij (Online), Accessed on June 30, 2021 on
Kittikulsawat R., Teerahirunwat T., “SBPAC chooses cocoa as alternative crop and supplementary income source for southern people,” Department of Public Relations (Online), Accessed on June 30, 2021, on https://thainews.prd.go.th/th/news/detail/TCATG210209173330999.
Department of Internal Trade Promotion in Tsingtao, “Coffee consumption in China increased by 500% in the past century,” Department of International Trade Promotion. Ministry of Commerce (Online), Accessed on June 30, 2021 on https://www.ditp.go.th/ditp_web61/article_sub_view.php?filename=contents_attach/580105/580105.pdf&title=580105&cate=592&d=0.
Department of Internal Trade Promotion in Osaka, “Coffee consumption and Robusta coffee bean demand rise in Japan.” Department of International Trade Promotion. Ministry of Commerce (Online), Accessed on June 30, 2021 on https://www.ditp.go.th/ditp_web61/article_sub_view.php?filename=contents_attach/656904/656904.pdf&title=656904&cate=413&d=0.
Asakit S., Comparison of Opinion and Behaviors of Ground Coffee Consumers in Bangkok and Vicinity. Independent Study. Master of Business Administration Program. Srinakharinwirot, 2007, 34-35.
“Chief Representative of the Government visits the southern border provinces and gives Arabica and Robusta coffee seedlings to farmers,” the Prime Minister’s Secretariat Office (Online), Accessed on June 30, 2021, https://www.thaigov.go.th/news/contents/details/24569.
“The Return of Arabica to the Southern Thailand and the Taste of Yala’s Coffee,” My Hometown Pattani…(Online), Accessed on June 30, 2021, https://yala-patani-naratiwat.blogspot.com/2019/11/blog-post_18.html;
Facebook page of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC), Ban Po Cocoa Club Personal Facebook account “Abdulhafiz Hile”
This story is the fifth of mini series on “Food Dialogue for Social Cohesion” written by Mr. Arthit Thongin as a part of the independent research under the Southern Thailand Social Innovation Platform initiated by UNDP.
Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.”