Anyone who has been following our story here or on our other blog Thinglish Lifestyle will know we are passionate about permaculture and regenerative farming.
From our personal experience of growing cocoa trees, we have had more success by a very wide margin with the trees we planted in a ‘natural’ forest system than the trees we planted in straight lines, 3 meters apart.
The permaculture cocoa trees have grown faster and healthier and are producing fruits. In contrast the trees grown in straight lines (mono-culture style) have struggled with the elements, mainly wind and the brutal sun.
My conclusion to date, which could change in the future as I monitor and continually feedback is that permaculture/agroforestry is by far the best way to grow cocoa in Thailand.
With this in mind and reading a lot about reforesting parts of the planet to combat climate change, I got to wondering how local Thai farmers can capitalise on the current climate, no pun intended or Green New Deal!
Most of the local Thai farmers I meet on my journey mono crop. In my part of the world this is either rubber, pineapple or more recently durian.
Durian has been the flavour over the last 3 to five years and so much has been planted it’s incredible. I believe once all these trees are of fruit bearing age, the market price will drop considerable and the riches the farmers were promised will end up on a rotting mountain of stinky fruit.
As with most mono cropping, it isn’t sustainable. It requires huge amounts of water, pesticides, insecticide and hormones. That what happens when you work against nature instead of working with it.
I’m just Johnny foreigner (ferrang) with little farming knowledge so no one is going to listen to me, so I can only try to win hearts and minds by example.
My mission is to encourage more landowners to transition from mono cropping to permaculture. However, what holds many farmers back is the lack of ready finances. They may be land rich but are unfortunately cash poor.
In addition the Thai government introduced the new Land and Building Tax Act which came into effect 1 January 2020 to introduce a progressive tax system, to encourage landowners to utilize their land. This is another opportunity to reforest, create income and sustainable eco systems.
All I’ve seen to date is landowners, clear their land and plant coconut. This is a missed opportunity to create beautiful and abundant forests and attain a secondary income.
For a local farmer to suddenly stop mono cropping and receiving an expected income at harvest (minus the increased cost of production, inputs, the falling yields and degrading land) and transition to permaculture would be a brave or even foolish proposition for many.
The questions I’m most often hear are:
- I’d like to grow cocoa, but I can’t wait 3-5 years to get a harvest, how can I make money?
- If I grow cocoa where can I sell it?
- Who will buy my cocoa?
- How much is cocoa?
- Do I have to ferment the beans, or can I just grow the fruit?
Whether you believe in anthropogenic climate change, solar minimums or natural occurring evolutionary cycles, one thing I hope we can all agree on is planting more trees is a good thing.
One of the most simple pleasures in life, that of walking in nature, has been rediscovered by many people over the last 18 months while we spent two weeks at home helping to ‘flatten the curve’.
It just feels good to walk amongst trees for our mental wellbeing and our soul! The rustling of leaves, the fresh air, the abundance of wild life they support and if you’re lucky to have some really big, old trees near you, beholding the sheer majesty of them.
Wouldn’t the world be a better and richer place if we had more trees? If they were fruit trees, even better. We could all eat for free!
So that got me thinking. In the west there is a near religious obsession with climate change and this could benefit subsistence farmers in Thailand. In fact it could be highly beneficial many poor farmers 20 degrees north and south of the equator too. How?
Climate Change – Carbon Offsets
I believe cocoa farming is a viable way to offset carbon emissions and create or preserve natural habitats all the while adding value to the craft chocolate market.
There is a pivotal shift in the way climate change can by approached, whereby a monetary incentive will help create and preserve diverse ecosystems for everyone.
The Biden administration, most western governments, many corporations and even SME’s are hot on reducing their carbon footprint either by government mandate (Green New Deal) or just to show their green credentials (Corporate Responsibility or virtue signalling). Some companies have to attain compliance and others do so voluntary.
Currently planting a sponsored tree ranges from $1 to $15 per tree. The upper price is generally in the west where land has to be purchased at a premium. The low end is generally in more developing countries in the equatorial belt as land is cheaper and the trees grow faster than in colder climates.
As the trees grow they sequester more and more carbon and possible slow climate change.
Currently, the average Carbon Offset is $14USD per ton. Goldman Sachs and Hedge Funds are betting these will rise to $100 within a decade if not sooner. That’s nearly a 10X.
The Value of Carbon Terroir
This provides land owners and cocoa farmers a great opportunity in Thailand to help combat climate change.
There is currently a low supply and a growing demand for cocoa.
In addition there is the added value opportunities like making craft chocolate products etc. Anarchy Chocolate anyone!
Now there incentives to help reduce the carbon footprint of corporations like BP, Shell and Eni and Make Thailand Green Again.
In a nutshell I could see a simple model working thus:
- Thai farmers are paid to plant cocoa trees and other native fruit and nut trees
- Thai farmers sign long term contracts to grow and maintain cocoa trees in an agroforestry development and/or using permaculture principals
- Thai farmers receive carbon credits indirectly from corporations via regulatory agencies who need to offset their carbon footprint
- The carbon offset fees paid to farmers increase annually as the trees sequester more carbon as they age and grow larger increasing the annual income for the farmers and providing financial stability.
- Thai farmers harvest the fruit trees for additional annual/seasonal income – Cocoa, durian, mangosteen, coconut, oranges etc.
All the above could be tracked and traced on a blockchain to ensure contracts are fore filled by all parties.
This would end the current destructive cycles of burning, reverse deforestation and provide additional reliable income streams for farmers.
Other positive benefits would include the conservation of biodiversity hotspots, protect endangered species and provide more fresh, healthy food to local communities while also reducing food miles.
These new eco systems would have incredible value for all.
How Can We Move Forward?
I have to do more research in Thailand for bona-fide organisations who issue carbon credit offsets. Who records, monitors and pays the farmers?
I found agencies in the US and Europe that pay farmers handsomely for the initial tree planting in the west but very low prices out here in the east. The trade-off is trees grow quicker here, so the amount of carbon sequestered annually multiplies quicker as the years roll on.
I’ll leave some links for further reading below for those who are interested.
In addition, if you are reading this, are in the carbon offset industry and looking for farmers or landowners in Thailand to plant trees and issue carbon credits, please get in touch.
Combatting Climate Change with Cocoa