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Boots on the Ground

We live in a virtual world. Work from home, work from away, and digital nomads define the age.

There are plenty of positive impacts, from no polluting, time-consuming commutes to more time with our kids.

Digital is the bomb.

But the real, tangible, touchable world is still out there. And there are times when the only solution is boots on the ground.

Some Background

I planted around 20 Chumphon Hybrid #1 cacao trees on Koh Phayam Island in 2018. It was the genesis of my vision to help the Islanders shift from environmentally harmful crops like rubber to sustainable cacao.

It takes proof of concept for people to embrace change. Twenty trees will not start a revolution.

So, the following year, I added 380 trees.

Koh Phayam - literally translated as “Perseverance Island” - is a gem in the middle of the Andaman Sea, located on Thailand’s West Coast in Ranong province. I grew up on the island, so the plan was to visit family every year and monitor/record the growth progress. It was the genesis of “KOH KOA” – introducing cacao to the island.

Covid had a different idea.

But nature is incredible. I coordinated the cleaning of the property, and the trees grew.

Thailand opened fully in the fall of 2022, and I finally returned after three years.

Here’s what I found:

• pods are growing on the first generation of trees planted in 2018

• 250 trees will start producing pods late in 2023

• 150 trees will be producing in 2024

The trees are healthy, pesticide and chemical-free. There are a few onsite issues to overcome. Still, I am confident that KOH KOA will successfully grow, produce, and distribute cocoa on Koh Phayam.

While on the island, I spoke with several farmers interested in the shift to cacao. In fact, some have even planted a few trees as companions to their cashew trees.

And it’s not exclusive to Koh Phayam. A farmer on Koh Chang, a neighbouring island, told me he had planted some Chumphon Hybrid #1 trees. He was enthusiastic about growing more and introducing sustainability practices there.

Another old friend told me farmers in the valleys around Kapoe grew cacao 30 years ago. They stopped because of challenges in finding a buyer. But if a buyer were to be secured, he reckoned there could be a solid return to cacao farming.


I had conversations with other farmers in south Thailand, and the initiative is gaining steam. I sense there is a growing interest in sustainable farming and shifting from environmentally harmful models like rubber and other pesticide/chemical-based practices. People often talk about what they will

leave for the next generation. And they understand the current path is not sustainable.

But there is a long way to go.

Next Steps

ECOSHIFT recently connected with a Thai chocolate maker interested in creating a positive impact for cacao farmers and securing access to more producers. We have identified two streams for growers: bulk cacao and fine cacao.

Better still, we are negotiating long-term floor price contracts to ensure a reasonable living standard for our members based on quality.

And best of all, ECOSHIFT secured a mandate, including funding, to return to Thailand and expand the project by aggregating existing cacao growers into our network.

My boots will return to the ground in a few months to meet Thai cacao farmers, introduce them to ECOSHIFT and encourage them to join our cooperative.


Achieving our goals requires insights and guidance from industry professionals and advocacy groups.

We have learned a lot, with more to come.

  • Continued collaboration with Kristian Doolan and the farmer connect team to embed pragmatic tools and traceability solutions into our program to ensure our consumers get trusted transparency and while also ensuring that our Thai farmers get the recognition and value they deserve.

  • Antonie Fountain from the advocacy group Voice Network on the importance of focusing on farmers and helping them improve their lives

  • And discovering the complexities of soil analysis and how to improve conditions for each farmer has leapt forward with expert insights from Peter van Grinsven at Bright Life Farming. His guidance will help ECOSHIFT advise on best practices to boost yields and streamline post-harvest processes.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

We continue to reach out to experts in cacao farming, sustainability, and technology fields to continue building ECOSHIFT from the ground up.

Want to know more? Interested in investing in ECOSHIFT?

Contact me at:


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