Ensia

This man turned an opium field into a sustainable coffee farm in Thailand

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Courtesy of Ensia

Somsak Sriphumthong is on a caffeine-fueled mission.

After years living and working abroad, the organic farmer and community leader returned to his native Thailand several years ago — during a time when the forests were being cleared for opium fields and rice plantations.

Seeking a sustainable alternative, he started growing and selling organic coffee beans on reclaimed land. Why coffee? Sriphumthong says he “didn’t want to take advantage of society … or harm people” while earning a living.

As he explains in the video, coffee plants can coexist with the forest — reducing local pressure to contribute to global deforestation — and provide a steady stream of income for poor communities. And as an added bonus, the plant cover the coffee plants and remaining forest provide helps reduce downstream flooding during the rainy season.

To grow the coffee organically, Sriphumthong employs an intricate system of natural pest control.

He’s now working with other communities in Chiang Mai province to expand organic coffee growing and raise awareness of the importance of protecting the forest.

Hong Kong-based filmmaker, editor and video journalist Ivan Abreu filmed and produced this original video for Ensia magazine. View his other work on Vimeo and Instagram.

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