Even as coffee consumption grows in Thailand each year, the country remains a net coffee importer. Several coffee growers have shifted to other lucrative plants such as rubber and oil palm because of their higher market prices.
Varri Sodprasert, president of the Thai Coffee Association, said Thailand’s coffee production has dropped continuously the last five to six years, with production this year estimated at only 41,000 tonnes.
Coffee has been grown in Thailand for over 100 years. The country officially became a coffee exporter in 1976, selling 850 tonnes of robusta coffee. Helped by strong world market prices in the 1980s, exports thrived, culminating in a peak in 1991-92 of almost 60,000 tonnes.
The collapse of the “International Coffee Agreement” in July 1989 and the following slump in world coffee prices hit farmers hard. Facing an oversupply, the Thai government initiated a five-year plan starting in 1992 to encourage coffee farmers to switch crops, reducing the coffee plantation area from almost 500,000 rai.
Coffee plantation is estimated at 300,000 rai this year, with about 260,000 rai for robusta beans and 39,000 rai for arabica, said Peyanoot Naka, senior research officer at the Agriculture Department.
Robusta coffee growers are mostly in the South, where plantation area is expected to drop from 287,000 rai as more farmers shift to rubber and oil palm.
But arabica strains, grown mostly in the North, are expected to increase plantation given relatively high prices.
The ex-farm price of arabica is now at 150 baht per kilogramme, while the related price of robusta is 72 baht per kg.
Domestic consumption is estimated at 70,000 tonnes a year. Thailand imports at least 5,000 tonnes to supply instant coffee makers.
The U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that it filed lawsuits in Hawaii and Washington state against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms, including six in Hawaii.
The agency said Global Horizons brought more than 200 men from Thailand to work on farms in Hawaii and Washington, where they were subjected to severe abuse.
The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, the EEOC said.
The agency said the Thai workers were assigned to work at these farms in Hawaii: Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Farms.
The Washington state farms named in the lawsuits are Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards.
The lawsuit follows criminal charges brought against Global Horizons last year. The U.S. government in September indicted Global Horizons owner Mordechai Yosef Orian and others with exploiting about 400 Thai workers in forced-labor conditions from May 2004 to September 2005.
A federal judge has ordered the return of $196,000 the operators of Aloun Farms had previously paid as restitution for 24 Thai workers they are accused of exploiting.
Brothers Alec and Mike Sou paid the money in August after they pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit forced labor in connection with the importation of 44 farm workers from Thailand.
The money was not distributed but held by the court. It was to be distributed to up to 24 workers at $8,000 each worker. At the time the Sous agreed to pay the restitution, the government had identified 21 workers as victims of human trafficking.
The $8,000 represented up to half of the upfront money the workers paid recruiters to get the farm jobs on Aloun Farms.
The Sous withdrew their guilty pleas last month and are scheduled to go to trial next month.
The owners of Hawaii’s second-largest farm are looking to get back $192,000 from the federal court clerk in Honolulu.
The money was to have been divided among 24 Thai farm workers under a plea agreement initially accepted by Alec Sou and his brother Mike Sou of Aloun Farms.
But a federal judge rejected the deal because the Sous disputed some of the facts they had previously acknowledged in the plea agreement. They then changed their pleas to not guilty.
The human trafficking trial of the owners of Aloun Farms in Kapolei is set to begin Nov. 9. In all, they are accused of exploiting 44 imported laborers from Thailand.