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The Sweet Revolution: Cocoa Farming and Production in Thailand with Mr. Thanpawat Sawetphattarawathin

Khun Nui leads Thailand’s cocoa revival through his Cacao-O-Coco company, aiming to make Thailand a top global cocoa producer, while promoting sustainable farming and economic growth among local farmers.

In this episode of Trends, our host, David explores the pioneering efforts of Khun Nui, his Cacao-O-Coco company and the resurgence of Thailand’s cocoa industry.

Thailand, a country renowned for its tropical fruits, is now making a mark in the field of cocoa farming. At the forefront of this sweet revolution is Mr. Thanpawat Sawetphattarawathin, affectionately known as Khun Nui, the visionary founder and CEO of Caca-O-Coco in Thailand, and Chairman of Ranong Cacao Social Enterprise. In a span of four years, his pioneering efforts have sparked a resurgence of cocoa cultivation, spanning 25 provinces, while tapping in to Thailand’s soft power: Food.

The cocoa industry in Thailand has a history dating back 300 years, yet its true potential was hindered by unforeseen challenges. Over 30 years ago, a devastating cyclone named Typhoon Gay hit southern Thailand, leaving cocoa farmers in despair. In response, the Thai government introduced cocoa as a fast-yield crop in 1992. However, a lack of knowledge among farmers led to the disappearance of cocoa farming for nearly three decades.

Four years ago, Khun Nui and his friends decided to revive cocoa cultivation in Thailand, and the results have been remarkable. With the dissemination of knowledge through platforms like YouTube, Thai farmers now have access to information on cocoa cultivation and processing. Khun Nui envisions Thailand becoming one of the world’s premier producer of high quality cocoa in the near future.

Khun Nui’s company, Cacao O Coco, stands as a beacon of sustainable business practices. Functioning as a social enterprise, it actively promotes cocoa cultivation and processing among farmers, fostering economic growth and sustainability. Unlike traditional crops like rubber and palm oil, where farmers sell produce to middlemen, cocoa enables farmers to cultivate and process their own products, creating a sustainable source of income.

The economic viability of cocoa is evident when compared to crops like rubber. Cocoa trees allow farmers to harvest and sell beans with a quicker and more lucrative turnaround. Cacao O Coco is not only helping farmers market their products but also ensuring that cocoa becomes a vital economic crop in Thailand, using only cocoa seeds cultivated by local farmers.

Thailand’s diverse climate and geography contribute to the unique flavours of its cocoa. From the tropical and humid south with herbal and spicy overtones to the cooler north offering light and bright fruity flavours, each region boasts its distinctive cocoa profile. The central region leans towards nutty tones, while the east provides dried fruit-like cocoa, and the west delivers a cocoa flavour with a hint of bananas and papaya. The variety and richness in aroma and flavour has led to Thai cocoa gaining recognition at prestigious events like the Academy of Chocolate Awards in the UK.

Beyond its exquisite taste, Thai cocoa is gaining acclaim as a ‘superfood.’ The natural processing methods employed by Cacao O Coco retain the nutritional benefits and various vitamins of cocoa. Customers report improved health, attesting to the genuine health benefits of cocoa, especially cocoa butter, rich in flavonoids that contribute to cardiovascular health, better blood circulation, deep sleep and overall well-being.

Thailand’s reputation for growing excellent fruits, vegetables and rice now extends to cocoa, positioning it as a sustainable economic crop benefiting both the nation and its farmers. As more farmers across different regions embrace cocoa cultivation, Thailand is poised to make a significant impact on the global cocoa stage, offering a delectable symphony of flavours and a sustainable future for its agricultural landscape. The sweet revolution has only just begun, and with leaders like Khun Nui at the helm, the world can expect to savour the fruits of Thailand’s cocoa renaissance.

Managing Director - DBC Asia | + Articles

David Barrett is a MICE Consultant, Marketing Strategist and digital video advocate. Founder of DBC Group, Member of Institute of Place Management (MIMP) his motto is “Everybody has a story to tell. Let me tell yours.”

David is a long-term resident of Bangkok having lived and worked in the Thai capital for more than 32 years. He is recognised in the Thai tourism and hospitality industry for his passion for promoting Thailand, his love of Thai food, and his creative approach to marketing.

64 years young, David is a Brit in Bangkok. Born in St Helier, UK, he returned to the UK and set up home in Cornwall during the COVID pandemic. With business back as usual, David has returned to Thailand. He’s a man on a mission to interview leaders and trend-setters in business, sustainability, the arts and entertainment. You can watch his weekly conversations on Trends YouTube channel.