During my travels in Northern Thailand I was joined by others in assessing the micro and agricultural business opportunities for the Ahka people of Northern Thailand.
Until only a few years ago, there were not even roads leading to many of these villages, but a commitment on the part of King of Thailand (an avid agriculturalist himself) has lead to roads, electricity and communications systems being provided. In addition, the Thai government has invested a lot of time and effort to improve farming methods and opportunities for remote tribal peoples. However, many simply work as migrant tea harvesters. This does not provide enough to retain the youth of the communities, nor sustain their way of life.
I contacted an old friend Larry who has a couple of Ph.Ds in agriculture and has worked with various organizations including the Peace Corp in Honduras, Vietnam, Thailand, Bulgaria, and among the Navaho in the United States. In addition to being an astute biologist/horticulturalist, he has an amazing ability to quickly learn some of the world’s most difficult languages. Currently Larry works as a consultant and educator with ECHO in Fort Myers, Florida.
I explained the situation to him and here is some of his response:
Actually, tea is a good long-term, sustainable crop. The Vietnamese almost always plant tea or coffee and high-value fruit crops to have a regular cash income (they pick and cash in tea each day, using the money to go to the market!). Then they look at new crops and agricultural systems to augment their lives.
The Royal Thai Government has had a number of agricultural programs in the hills introducing farmers to fruit crops, tea, coffee, rubber and now African oil palm. My friend Rick, located in the highlands, has a better handle on some of those details that might be appropriate for your folk.
Other crops to consider for sustainable living might include perennial vegetable crops such as katuk (pak wan baan, in Thai), pak wan bah, dtamleung (ivy gourd – grows wild in many places), shallots (hawm daeng), garlic (gratium), moringa (marung) and asparagus (naw-mai farang). In addition, a myriad of medicinal plants grown in the area.
Fruit is also a good investment, even though it seems everybody plants and sells strawberries in the north. However, another fruit to consider might include citrus, avocado, lichee, longan, jack fruit, bread fruit. It might be too cold, but if the temp stays above 40 degrees F, mangosteen and durian are good crops too. The small Chinese tangerine that is common right now in all the markets is one that is currently imported for the most part, but I think would do well as a crop produced here. It would probably be best to seed them and then graft them to local root stock.
I’d be interested if anyone else has thoughts, resources or suggestions.