When we think about how we all change as humans, the most effective change happens when it starts from within – by our own will. This is the way that ITDF approaches their influence on the lives of the Northern Hill Tribes. For the fight on poverty to really take root, it cannot come only from the outside because that will not create lasting change. 

That is a big reason why ITDF has been a support to these hill tribes in the way of bringing an incredibly beneficial crop to the villages and families in Northern Thailand – coffee!

It all started in 1959 with Dick and Marlene Mann who sought to replace the harmful opium fields in Northern Thailand with fields of coffee. Coming from a background of studying agriculture, the Mann’s used their knowledge to bring resources and education to these villages in order to give them a fruitful resource through growing coffee. The land in the northern hill tribes in Thailand proved to be amazingly fruitful because of the altitude and climate.

In the beginning of growing coffee in these villages, the villagers would heavily rely on outside sources to buy the red coffee cherries from them in a very timely manner – or else the berries would go bad and the crop would be wasted. Hill tribe farmers found themselves at the mercy of whatever prices brokers offered, since there was no way to find another buyer in time to pulp the cherries.

In order to solve this problem, the villagers needed to become more self reliant during the process of harvesting the coffee beans. ITDF worked with them in order to bring more support in resources and education on how to make the process of coffee harvesting more efficient. They formed the first coffee cooperative among 40 different villages in 5 different provinces in Northern Thailand. 

They are now able to get the coffee production to a point where they can pulp and dry the coffee on their own, without the need for a buyer in the early stages. This allows them to have up to a year to find a buyer – a significant amount of time longer than when they would rely on the buyer to process the cherries.

All of these villages have seen much positive growth from being in the coffee business. 

Because they are able to produce coffee in or near their village, the workers are able to remain in their home and with their families. The amount of families that need to be separated in order to get jobs in bigger cities has been reduced and they are able to focus on their work life and family life with equal importance. This greatly increases their quality of life both within their families and in the greater community.

Coffee is also a very environmentally friendly plant to grow. There is no need to clear out trees in order for them to get direct sunlight because they can thrive in the shade! This means less damage and change that needs to happen to the natural landscape in these northern hill tribes. Another benefit of shade grown is that there is not enough sunlight for weeds and grasses to grow- therefore there is no pressure to use herbicides and other chemicals to manage the weeds. With the expansion of coffee growing in Thailand, we’ve seen a big comeback in natural forests.

Coffee growing in the Northern Hill Tribes has solidified to the point where they are now starting to experiment with different flavorings of coffee through a variety of growing methods – including anaerobic fermentation.

As a testimony of God’s provision and blessing on this project of villagers growing coffee, ITDF attests that “we can get a family out of poverty in 6 years if they start growing coffee”.

Of course, this could only be possible through the grace of God, and yet it also succeeds because of the ownership that these villagers have taken over coffee growing. The escape out of poverty is intimidating and dark. For the hill tribes in Northern Thailand, this feat has more hope and is more attainable because of the growth, production, and selling of coffee. 

If you would like to learn more about what is going on with growing coffee and the efforts of ITDF, you can read more about their projects here.

If you care to be a part of the efforts to end poverty in Northern Thailand, you can click here to donate towards ITDF’s clean water projects to help another village be ready to undertake growing coffee plants.