Food for Change

Grow solutions to climate change

VOCI DALLA RETE

We need to save our seeds, climate, seasons
to protect our communities!

We experienced it three years ago, in 2014, when we had an unprecedented bitter cold. Crops were heavily damaged: we lost more than 60% of coffee plants and the whole yield was affected; many farmers struggled, as they did not earn enough.

Lee Ayu Chuepa
Terra Madre Indigenous 
Thailand


This is what we try to do daily at the Akha Ama coffee factory. My name is Lee Ayu Chuepa and I am a young coffee farmer and a social entrepreneur. I belong to the Akha indigenous community living in the Maejantai, in the Northern Thailand. I grew up in a small village where people used to provide everything for themselves, from building houses and tools to foods by doing subsistence agriculture.

I was lucky because my parents worked hard to give me the chance to study. Later on, whilst working for an NGO, which supports village kids by teaching them how to build social enterprises, I understood, that was my mission too!

I went back to my village and started my social business, a coffee factory dealing with the whole value chain, from the seed to the coffee bean to avoid middlemen and maximise the income.

We apply integrated agriculture and agroforestry to grow coffee and other foods such as cherries, peaches and persimmons. Thus, aside from the coffee to sell, we have food to eat. These production systems allow us to gain twice: we earn an income to support our livelihoods whilst growing our food and preserving a resilient land which ensures long-term food security and continuity of our income-generating activities. Moreover, in a healthy forest we can find plenty of useful plants with no effort to grow them, from mushrooms to bamboos and plants used in traditional medicine: if you treat the forests well, forests will treat you!
This is what I strongly believe in and what made me join the Slow Food movement, whose mission is to promote this kinds of sustainable agriculture and to support and protect the work of small producers. 

Unfortunately, this is not always the case in our area and elsewhere in Thailand: since globalization farmers are often in need for higher incomes to provide for their families’ needs. Thus, they start producing higher quantities of lower-quality products, shifting to monocultures, deforesting and using chemicals, which damage local ecosystems and lower their resilience. We experienced it three years ago, in 2014, when we had an unprecedented bitter cold. Crops were heavily damaged: we lost more than 60% of coffee plants and the whole yield was affected; many farmers struggled, as they did not earn enough. Yet, this fact made people aware of the importance of biodiversity in keeping an ecosystem resilient: they started providing shelter for the coffee by growing canopy like avocado trees, macadamia nut trees, stone fruits trees, tea and many different vegetables. It also showed how monocultures are more vulnerable and less nutritious for coffee not to mention that integrated farming and agroforestry provide better opportunity for regular incomes from integrated crops.

This is our daily attempt to mitigate and adapt to climatic changes. And we are planning to do more!
We are building a learning space in Chiangmai, where our coffee factory is located, for students, visitors and farmers to hold workshops and talk about our climate-friendly agricultural approach. This space will be combined with a social garden where the workers at the factory can grow native seeds and a kitchen where to cook traditional indigenous dishes to preserve local knowledge.
Once a year, we also organise what we call Coffee Journeys where interested people and tourists from Thailand and beyond can take part in: they visit the plantations and meet the farmers. It is really rare to get to know the people and the places behind the products we buy; this helps us understand their real value.

We believe that sharing knowledge and information is the best way to raise-awareness about pressing issues, like climate change. After all, “Coffee is just the bridge to access sustainable living for our people and visitors!”
Lee Ayu Chuepa