From the low price of rubber affecting economic condition of Thai farmers in all regions, the government issued a measure to solve the problems of rubber price recession with 2 guideline of practices including rubber processing for domestic use as much as possible and reducing rubber production by growing alternative plants in the rubber-tree farms. A plant that gains much attention is cocoa, and according to the domestic and world market condition evaluation, coco products are increasingly needed with import value of cocoa in 2019 accounted for 1,761 million Baht.
Information from a research study of the Department of Horticulture, Faculty of Agricultural production, Maejo University, showed that the landscape and climate of Thailand are suitable for cocoa cultivation in almost every area. At present, cocoa is grown in only 5,000 Rai nationwide, and the product does not exceed 200 tons. However, the import is about 50,000 tons/ year while chocolate market with cocoa as raw material in processing all over the world has growth rate at 6% per year, which is extremely high. So, this is an opportunity for Thailand including southern-border provinces to pay attention to this kind of economic plant.
However, this is not the first time of coco cultivation promotion policy. In 30 years ago around southern region and Khlong Klai Basin, Sa Kaew Sub-district, Tha Sala District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, it was an important coco cultivation area, but it was like other economic plants that the farmers were not informed of processing and they just sold fresh cocoa that the markers were uncertain. When many farmers grew, the price recession occurred and finally, most of them decided to cut down cocoa trees and changed to grow other plants such as rubber tree, mangosteen and durian.
Currently, this situation happens with rubber, which is becoming the tree of failure while remaining cocoa trees that are grown in the farm have good price, but cocoa is not adequate to needs of the expanding markets. So, Cocoa gains much attention again, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is preparing to promote it to be alternative plant for rubber tree. However, the farmers are unsure about cocoa’s future and afraid that the market condition like in the past may recur. Therefore, the government has to make a clear plan with focus on coffee cultivation model, starting from coffee producers to farmers with coordination of producers or cocoa processing industry before promotion to meet the needs with enough quantity and best quality.
At present, in Tha Sala District, cocoa is cultivated along with other plants for 2-3 trees/ Rai while in Sakaew District, on 50 cocoa trees are cultivated with a small purchase venue in Tha Sala District as a household business. Farmers learn how to produce chocolate from harvesting cocoa fruit, fermenting seeds, sun-drying, roasting and grounding until it turns to be homemade chocolate. Thai cocoa, grown in Tha Sala District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, was processed for contest and won in International Chocolate Awards in 2018 and 2019 by PARADAi Craft Chocolate, the first chocolate producer in Thailand, from the concept that local Thai raw materials are not inferior to those in other countries, but they are unique and thus all raw materials in Thailand are used. Furthermore, Thai pattern on chocolate and package is another good point that promotes unique production for the community.
The most suitable area for cocoa cultivation is southern region, because it is well grown in tropical weather with persistent rain. Cocoa can be cultivated in shade of other trees, and farmers only add manuals with no need of chemical fertilizer. Most importantly, water is required all year long that Cocoa will bloom and fruit well. Its product can be harvested all year long, and it grows fast with age of hundred of year. Harvesting starts in the 3rd year after growing.
At present, in southern-border provinces, farmers are more interested in cultivating cocoa including those in Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. An educational institution such as Narathiwat Community College, Mueang Narathiwat District, educates people by organizing a workshop and demonstrating how to grow cocoa together with rubber trees as an alternative of cultivation and a way to increase income for rubber-tree farmers in the future. Now, many private companies promote farmers to grow cocoa and make a contract for cocoa purchase with minimum price guarantee.
The important thing is knowledge about processing along with cocoa cultivation as well as needs of a farmer group establishment to gather and process products to add value of products from upstream producers to downstream. It is like the promotion of rubber-tree growing for farmers to develop rubber processed products in form of innovation as a rubber sheet for flooring with different surface for visually disabled people, by Tachi rubber-tree farmer and rubber product group. This point is essential that the government and private sectors should support in terms of education and production and processing innovation for stability and sustainability of quality of life and community economy so that the same incident will not happen again like in the past.