Beyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand
by Mark Pendergrast
The Akha hill tribe of Thailand has a long, tumultuous history. Politics, economics, violence, prejudice, and deforestation consistently worked against the Akha’s desire to move away from their dependency on opium production and create a stable future for their children. That all changed in 2006 when prominent businessman John Darch met entrepreneur Wicha Promyong.
On the most basic level, Beyond Fair Trade tells the extraordinary story of Doi Chaang, a coffee cooperative on a remote mountainside in Thailand, and the Vancouver coffee company, half owned by the Thai cooperative, that imports and roasts its beans, then sends half its profits back to the farmers, most of whom belong to the Akha hill tribe. Wicha Promyong, a charismatic, shrewd Thai, provided essential leadership to the Akha in growing their coffee, roasting it, and creating a coffeehouse chain in Thailand to sell it. In Vancouver, Doi Chaang Coffee chairman John M. Darch emphasizes that he founded the company not as a charitable venture but as a sustainable, alternative form of capitalism that provides a new business model, a win-win approach that provides equitable profit for all.
If that were all there were to the story, it would indeed make a fascinating case study. But Beyond Fair Trade is far more than that. It is part travelogue, part anthropology, part business/marketing, part drama, part morality tale. And, as with any venture involving human beings, there are complications, misunderstandings, friction, challenges, and continual evolution.
This story features a multi-layered saga involving the history and culture of the hill tribes of Thailand, of Thailand itself, and of the opium trade, from ancient Sumeria to its apotheosis in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia (aided and abetted by the British, French, and the CIA), as well as the history and cultivation of coffee, from its origin in Ethiopia to tropical mountainsides around the world. It introduces a cast of fascinating characters, without whom coffee would not be transforming lives. It also explores the impacts, both positive and negative, of sudden wealth on a previously marginalized tribal village. These are issues that will face many people as the global village becomes ever smaller.
Essentially, this is a story of inspiration and hope. When cultures meet, they sometimes collide, but they can also reinforce, teach, and help one another.
Praise for Beyond Fair Trade
“What does compassionate capitalism look like? Mark Pendergrast shows us in this enlightening story of tribal life, opium, missionaries, market trends, a Thai antiques dealer, a mining entrepreneur — and coffee.” –Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal
“Well-researched and well-written, Mark Pendergrast’s Beyond Fair Trade is an inspirational tale of how culinary globalization can work for the benefit of both low- and high-income communities.” –Andrew F. Smith, editor-in-chief, Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America
“Beyond Fair Trade tells the extraordinary story of how the traditionally illiterate hill tribes in a small mountain village in Thailand overcame warlords, opium production, deforestation and poverty—all through coffee and help from Canadian entrepreneur John Darch and Thai visionary Wicha Promyong.”— Julie Angus, author of Olive Odyssey
“A rich and resonantly detailed account of an unlikely partnership that enabled the hard-working tribespeople of a remote coffee-growing village in Thailand to emerge from poverty and obscurity to success in the refined new world of fine coffee.” — Kenneth Davids, Coffee Review
“Doi Chaang is where the bar is presently set—the absolute gold standard for good.” — Todd Carmichael, founder of La Colombe and Adventurer-Host of the Travel Channel’s Dangerous Grounds
“With scholarly and sensitive detail, Mark Pendergrast tells the story of the once despised Akha hill tribes of northern Thailand, tracing the culturally traumatic but ultimately successful transformation from raising opium poppies to harvesting a more stimulating crop: organic arabica coffee beans.” — William E. Mitchell, author of The Bamboo Fire: Fieldwork with the New Guinea Wape
“Mark Pendergrast relates the story of coffee in Thailand against a backdrop of the confluence of economics, anthropology, agriculture and the extraordinary capacity of humans to influence their own worlds.”— Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director, Specialty Coffee Association of America
“Beyond Fair Trade completely surpassed my expectations. This is an uplifting account of how coffee and the dedication of a few outsiders is helping the Akha escape the poverty that has haunted them for so long.” — Linda Aylesworth, Global TV News Reporter
“Mark Pendergrast has written an extraordinary book about how a poverty-stricken hill tribe in a remote village in Thailand became internationally famous for its coffee, and how a Canadian businessman and Thai entrepreneur helped make that happen.” — Pisan Manawapat, Ambassador of Thailand to Canada (2013-2015)
“Beyond Fair Trade does an admirable job of tracing the evolution of the Doi Chaang Coffee Company and showing how corporate social responsibility can be part of a successful business strategy.”— Philip Calvert, Canadian Ambassador to Thailand
“I celebrate the story of Doi Chaang in Thailand as a force for change. I believe that through trade justice, communities like Doi Chaang and world markets can meet and thrive together.”— Tom Smith, Executive Director of Fairtrade Canada (2012–2015)
Click here for full Bibliography to supplement “Note on Sources” in the book.