For decades, tribal people had lived in fear of drug syndicates that were as powerful as they were violent. Nor did this just stop with the introduction of the ITDP.

In 1985, the infamous cartel leader and warlord Khun Sa, known as “the Opium King,” reached heights of military and political power that had not been seen in South Asia for centuries. Backed by his homemade Mong Tai Army, a union of over 20,000 drug traffickers turned warriors, he began battling Burmese government forces.

Fortunately, the reign of Khun Sa ended in the ‘90s. However, drug trafficking and civilian casualties in the Golden Triangle remained frighteningly high. For many impoverished Thai farmers, the allure of growing opium remained in its high cash yield; a single kilogram of it could sell for up to $500.

The Golden Solution: Coffee

To combat this growing issue, the governments of the Golden Triangle teamed up with the United Nations International Drug Control Program and began what they called opium replacement; here’s where our wonderful beans come in once again.

Alongside sugarcane, coconuts, cacao, and a few other profitable crops, coffee was introduced to Thailand on a widespread and near-industrial level. Coffee has since grown into one of the country’s favorite cash crops, filling commercially and community-owned fields and paddies across Chiang Mai.