Spend a summer in Thailand!

Agroecology and Entrepreneurship: Coffee, Chocolate, and Cannabis

Spend your summer studying Agroecology and Entrepreneurship Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai, Thailand, is emerging as a global center for specialty coffee, artisanal chocolate, and medicinal cannabis. This course is a hands-on study of these three important crops, learning directly from farmers and local producers.

Coffee, cacao, and cannabis are three significant crops traded and consumed worldwide.  Studying these crops will help us better understand the links between sustainable agricultural practices and cash crops for small holder farmers.

  • Coffee is both global and intensely local. This course examines coffee at both levels — from the local production in smallholder agriculture to production, trade, and consumption.
  • Cacao and chocolate production can be either sustainable or exploitative of both people and ecosystems. We will also look at how cacao is grown, processed, and the final production of artisanal chocolate.
  • Finally, Thailand is the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize cannabis for medicinal use, recognizing its longstanding role in traditional medicine. We will examine the challenges to production, including the role of small farmers, research institutions, clinical use, and the legal issues surrounding the emergent cannabis industry.

Building on 20 years of teaching about smallholder agriculture in Thailand, this course will experientially study coffee, chocolate, and cannabis growing in the small farms of Northern Thailand, and then move into a study of production, processing, and consumption. We will also examine the broader social and economic context of these crops, including both the local and international context.

COURSE DATES: June 4-July 1 (student arrive June 3 and can depart July 2)

The course will be based in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is emerging as an important center for coffee, artisanal chocolate, and medicinal cannabis  in Southeast Asia. Northern Thailand, in particular, has a long history of coffee production, including crop substitution projects as well as Royal Projects to assist upload minority groups to move out of opium production and into alternative and sustainable crop production.

As a small but cosmopolitan city, the 700 year old city of Chiang Mai brings together ancient history with diverse cultures and traditions, with long term residents from around Asia and the rest of the world. The course will be based at ISDSI’s Chiang Mai campus, with excursions into the surrounding hills and farms, as well as the numerous cafes and business involved in coffee, cacao, and cannabis growing, production, and consumption.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the agroecology of coffee, cacao, and cannabis production in Thailand
  • Understand the key issues surrounding sustainability and cash crop production, especially in regards to the impact of climate change on cash crop production
  • Understand the specific social and economic constraints and opportunities with small holder farmers in upland Southeast Asia
  • Have a working knowledge of the biology and ecology of coffee, cacao, and cannabis
  • Be able to identify and explain each stage of production, from harvest to processing to consumption
  • Understand the requirements for certification as “organic” and “fair trade” for these crops and agricultural production more generally
  • Have a working knowledge of how cafes, dispensaries, and other challenge bring the final product to the end user
  • Have a practical understanding and skills in growing, processing, and producing coffee
  • Understand the process of chocolate production, from cacao pods, through fermentation to final production
  • Understand the legal and agroecological challenges of sustainable cannabis production, and its place in small holder agriculture in Thailand

Course Dates

June 4-July 1, 2023

Students need to arrive on June 3 and depart on July 2.

Course Details

  • 4 credits
  • 4 weeks long
  • Based in Chiang Mai city with visits to villages and farms
  • Hands-on experiential learning
  • Focus on coffee, cacao, and cannabis production


  • $5,000 per student
  • Need based scholarships are available.
  • Fees cover all food, lodging, excursions, and activities.
  • Fees do not include airfare and related expenses.

Selected Field Studies

  • Visits to artisanal roasters
  • Case studies of world class cafes
  • Field studies of coffee farms, cacao farms, and medicinal cannabis production farms
  • Farm visits and farm stays

Semester Deadlines

Fall Semester Deadline: March 15

Spring Semester Deadline: October 15

After the deadline we will accept students on a space available basis, so contact us at [email protected]

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