In 2011 I spent several days at the Doi Chaang coffee cooperative in northern Thailand. There I encountered the extraordinary Wicha Promyong, the inspirational leader of the Doi Chaang coffee cooperative and its sister company, Doi Chaang Coffee. Shockingly and unexpectedly, Khun Wicha succumbed to a heart attack on Thursday, January 23, 2057 (2014) near Doi Chaang Village in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand.
Wicha was, truly, an amazing guy. He seemed to have been everywhere, done everything, knew all of the songs I knew, but for the last twelve years had devoted himself with unstinting energy, intelligence and moxie to bringing the Doi Chaang community out of the isolation and poverty that has long oppressed all of the hill tribe communities of northern Thailand through the strategy of elevating the Doi Chaang coffee production to international specialty standards. During my visit I would bring some little nuance of the latest innovation I had observed among leading high-end boutique coffee producers to Wicha, and invariably it turned out he knew about it already. He carried this knowledge without pretension, without competitiveness, only with an eye to getting more recognition and more money for the Doi Chaang community and its steadily improving coffees.
Doi Chaang Coffee in Canada provided the following press release on Wicha’s passing.
Well-educated, articulate and world-travelled, Khun Wicha was the consummate entrepreneur, musician and artist. Following various enterprises which brought him into contact with hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, he whole-heartedly embraced their way of life and regularly joined the tribes as they travelled on foot throughout the Golden Triangle without regard for borders or personal comfort.
Khun Wicha was a welcomed friend among many hill tribes providing a supportive voice and an active role in their struggles for equality and acceptance. Impassioned by their interminable plight of abject poverty, he dedicated the last twelve years of his life to the predominantly Akha hill tribe of Doi Chaang Village with particular emphasis on the protection and future of their vulnerable children. Khun Wicha guided the Akha in their quest for a better life, and through his sheer determination and dedication, he united them as a coffee-farming cooperative and was instrumental in transforming Doi Chaang Village from an isolated, impoverished community to one of sustainability and growth producing a world-class coffee that is recognized and respected worldwide.
Although he was the founder of Doi Chaang Coffee Company, Wicha’s passion and commitment to the company was never for his personal gain. Instead, he was driven by his fundamental belief that the company’s growth and prosperity was dependent on the well-being of all those involved and the rewards should be shared accordingly.
“It was Khun Wicha’s commitment to reinvest profits into the growth of the Akha farmers co-operative and their community that inspired us to create the unique Beyond Fair Trade partnership we established with Doi Chaang Village,” states John Darch, Doi Chaang Coffee’s co-founder. “We remember Khun Wicha as a man of integrity, warmth and incredible generosity. We feel privileged to have worked alongside him and we are resolute in our determination to honor his dream and to build on his legacy at Doi Chaang Village.”