I’ve been experimenting with growing a wide variety of fruits for the past few years. I first started in containers while living on Koh Chang island and progressed to planting out a permaculture food forest on 2 rai where we now live to create a self-sufficient and abundant source of chemical-free, fresh food.

Although we are now enjoying the fruits of our labour with daily harvests it will be around 5 years from planting to when the food forest reaches maturity and require next to no maintenance.

Recently I started to evaluate the crops we grow with a view to buying more land and moving into growing specialised crops in a commercial environment but keeping it local, small scale and manageable and definitely not in an industrial scenario.

I also don’t want to jump on the latest, big money cash crop trend that I see a lot of farmers following here in Thailand, where being late to the party doesn’t pay. Durian being the latest fruit to farm after Jack Ma sold 80,000 Durian in an hour. Everywhere I see now are farmers ripping out their old crops of rubber trees or pineapples (last year’s trend) and replacing them with Durian. Supply will out-perform demand in a few years and everyone will by chasing ever diminishing returns.

Forastario and Trinitario Cocoa Pods

Growing Cocoa Beans

I firmly believe farming is the future although most people don’t give it a second though as a career. As the world population continues to grow, farmers will play a significant role in the local and international communities like we have never seen before. Investors will also make substantial returns in this sector. Will growing cocoa beans in Thailand be the next big thing?

With all that being said, I’ve been looking at opportunities that are currently underdeveloped, underserved and have the greatest possible gains. Here’s my top three picks for farming for the future:

Crickets

The first farming practise I identified that fits my three criteria is farming bugs, crickets to be exact. We humans consume beef as a major source of protein but as the population grows there simply isn’t enough land to graze more cows and all the environmental devastation that goes along with that.

However, crickets have a very small footprint (figuratively and environmentally) and are a high source of protein.

Out here in the east, people have no issues about eating bugs, and very delicious they are too. In the West it’s going to take a little longer for the general population to get their heads around the concept. Fortunately, some pioneers in this space are producing high-quality flour and protein powders from farmed crickets. This looks to me like a high-value product with lots of room for growth.

Although I see great potential in the bug industry, I don’t see myself jumping into it as I don’t like the little critters. I encounter enough in my daily life in Thailand without farming them, however big the rewards may be.

Sacha Inchi

Sacha Inchi, mountain peanut or Inca Peanuts (Plukenetia volubilis) are a little-known superfood predominantly from South America. They are a perennial crop that are grown for their star shape fruit that contain the seeds and are now being cultivated commercially on a small scale in Thailand.

The seeds of the Inca Peanuts have a high protein and oil content and are packed with the highest levels of plant-based Omega 3 plus 6 and 9 making it a favourite snack of vegan or vegetarians.

The seeds when cold compressed make a very high-quality oil, protein powder, tea (from the leaves) and other products.

My first forays into growing Inca Peanuts have been good but I need more land to really give it a good test and find wholesalers to move the crop after harvest.

Cocoa

Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is the plant from which chocolate comes is derived. It is generally grown in the countries of South and Central America, the Caribbean and West Africa. 20 degrees above and below the equator are the optimal growing areas for cocoa.

Cocoa has also been grown in Thailand but fell out of favour decades ago for rubber but now I have seen a resurgence with a small number of growers and producers emerging.

Many cocoa farmers sell the beans direct to a handful of large corporations who make big brand chocolates and candy bars. However, the real money is in adding value and producing your own artisan chocolate brand from bean to bar or even tree to bar!

Of the top three future farming businesses I’ve touched on here, growing cocoa and making artisan chocolates is the model we like the idea of the most as it’s a good fit for us as a lifestyle business.

It’s a good inter-crop, meaning it grows well with other plants like banana, papaya, maringa and vanilla. Intercropping opposed to mono cropping, provides other revenue streams and also the benefit of not having all your eggs in the same basket.

Cocoa Pod on an Air Layered Tree

Will we be producing a Trat chocolate any time soon? No, we are growing cocoa trees, some from samplings, air layered and directly from beans but to have the quantity of cocoa pods to make chocolate is some way off just yet. But who knows what the future will hold. Maybe chocolate is like holding the golden ticket in farming. Watch this space!

Do you grow cocoa in Thailand? We want to hear from you.

We are currently growing cocoa beans from the Trinitario and Forastero varieties. We would also like to grow a wider variety of cocoa including Thai variants; Chumphon 1, Chumphon 2, I.M. 1 and of course,  Criollo.

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Growing Cocoa Beans in Thailand

2 Comments

  • Avatar
    Phineas John August 12, 2018

    Interesting. I live on Koh Mak and watch in dismay as they clear the old rubber plantations and replant tiny saplings. What about cocoa, I cry! Mai pen ray. Thais know best.

    • Perry Stevens
      Perry Stevens (Post author) August 13, 2018

      Interesting. Rubber trees have a lifespan of about 30 years and for the first six years they are not tapped. What kind of saplings are the old plantations on Koh Mak being replaced with?

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