The majority of farming families in Doi Chang Village are of Akha heritage. Rich in culture and tradition, the farmers have no official written language but do maintain a detailed oral history and live life according to the “Akha Way,” a spiritual, moral and social philosophy that governs behaviour and emphasizes strong ties to land and family. Like many of the hill tribe communities of Northern Thailand, the Akha hill tribe of Doi Chang have struggled with isolation and poverty. Traditionally the indigenous hill tribes of Northern Thailand lived independently well by practising slash and burn horticulture and then moving on once the land had been depleted. However, the increased population of the last century made the land and its resources scarce and many of the hill tribes resorted to cultivating opium for survival. The continuous “slash and burn” agricultural practice for opium cultivation deforested the villages and soon the younger generations began leaving their communities to look for a better life in the city.
In 1983, as part of the Royal Initiative, the Akha hill tribe farmers of Doi Chang Village received high quality Arabica coffee plants and instructions on how to cultivate and process coffee. After 20 years of successfully cultivating and processing coffee, the farming families grew frustrated selling their high quality beans to international coffee dealers for minimal prices. Through their own initiative, and with limited resources, the families united to create their own coffee company and began directly offering the unique taste of their own single-estate, premium Arabica coffee. Within a few short years the villagers established themselves as independent coffee producers by building their own facilities and successfully selling their coffee throughout Thailand and Asia.
The success of Doi Chang Coffee has greatly benefited the Akha hill tribe community. The village now has running water, electricity, a basic sewage system, a medical clinic and a small school. The village also has improved road conditions for easier access to the city and its amenities. As self-sufficient and self-directed coffee producers, the Akha people of Doi Chang Village are able to maintain their heritage and cultural values, while providing economic stability and growth for their community. Many of the youth are now receiving higher levels of education and returning to their Akha roots in Doi Chang Village to share in the prosperity of the coffee company.