The Spanish introduced cacao from their Latin American territories to Asia in the late 17th century. The Philippines became the gateway of cacao to the rest of the Asian region. Cacao arrived to Thailand from Malaysia more than 100 years ago via farmers who exchanged ideas and products across the border. However, it wasn’t widely cultivated until the 1950’s when the national government invested in cacao with plans to make it a commercially viable agricultural export. Cultivation numbers dwindled after the mid 1990’s when farmers started replacing cacao with other more valuable crops.
Gradually, small tree to bar and bean to bar brands started to appear in Thailand and cacao began making a comeback to meet the production needs of theses chocolate producers. One of these brands is MarkRin Chocolate, a family-led business which not only produces high end chocolate and semi processed cacao products, but does so using cacao from one single hybrid developed by its owner and founder, Dr. San La-Ongrsi. The brand was established in 2010 and was named after the founder’s children: Mark and Irin.
The hybrid I.M.1 cocoa variety was selected and developed by Assoc. Prof. Sanh La-ongsri, Ph.D., a former professor at the Faculty of Agricultural Production, Pomology Department, Maejo University and one of co-founders of MarkRin Chocolate.
I.M.1: A CACAO HYBRID FROMT THAILAND 30 YEARS IN THE MAKING
As an Associate Professor at Maejo University, Dr. San La-Ongrsi, taught his students about beverage crops (coffee, tea and cacao) for more than thirty years. During this period, Dr. La-Ongrsi conducted extensive research on cacao in order to develop a hybrid that could adapt to the growing conditions in Chiang Mai. With the help of his students, he developed the I.M.1 hybrid, which he also named after his children. Together with his wife, Mrs. Kanokked La-ongsri, he ran many trials and finally developed the post harvesting protocols for his hybrid.
The I.M.1 variety took more than 30 years of development and was officially registered at the Thailand Agricultural Department in 2017.
MARKRIN CACAO: PRESENT AND FUTURE
Nowadays, I.M.1 is grown in an intercropping system by more than 2000 farmers in 75 of the 77 provinces throughout Thailand. The cacao trees are grown along other cash crops like bananas, coconut, longan, rambutan, lychee, rubber, and other fruit trees. Cocoa represents a stable source of income for these producers since their crop is purchased by MarkRin for their production needs.
Until recently, all of the cacao produced was being processed into chocolate and semi processed cacao products in the modern MarkRin factory in Chiang Mai. This all changed this year when a historical first took place in September of 2023: the first shipment of I.M.1 cacao beans was exported by MarkRin to Europe. MarkRin has partnered with Daarnhouwer to promote their cacao in international markets.
This exciting new step is part of the company’s vision of supporting Thai farmers through crop diversification and the creation of a stable source of income through cacao.
Want to know more about MarkRin, their cacao, chocolate and semi processed cacao products? Visit their website: https://www.markrinchocolate.com/
Want to order a sample? Check our Cocoa Boutique: https://daarnhouwer.com/cocoa-boutique/
Intercropping I.M.1 with other cash crops allows partnering farmers to receive a steady income from their cacao production while diversifying their source of revenue.
The majority of the cacao producers are located in Northern Thailand. There are currently 300,000 I.M.1 cacao trees planted across the Thai territory.