Thai Orchid Production For The World Markets

Kanchit Thammasiri
Department of Plant Science, Faculty of Science, and Institute of Science and Technology for Research and Development,
Mahidol University,
Bangkok
   



ON: Nowadays, Thailand is known as an important market for orchids. For sure, geographical conditions play a part in it. Which are those conditions?
KT: Thailand is situated in a hot and humid tropical zone of Southeast Asia with a current population of nearly 65 million and a total land area of 321 million rais (6.25 rais = 1 hectare). Thailand is the 13th most plant-rich country in the world after Brazil, Colombia, China, Mexico, USSR, Indonesia, Venezuela, USA, Australia, India, Peru and Malaysia (Cronquist, 1981). Tropical ecosystems, unlike those in temperate zones, provide wider niches and are able to support a much larger variety of plant, animal and microbe species. It is estimated that there are approximately 15,000 plant species in Thailand including 3,000 species of mushrooms and fungi, 633 species of ferns and about 1,100 species of orchids. More than 779 species of plants possess active herbal ingredients used for traditional medicines (OEPP, 1996).

ON: Thailand just produces orchids?
KT: Being suitable for cultivation of many tropical commercial crops and ornamentals, Thailand produces several ornamental cut-flower crops besides orchids. Many of these cut-flower crops are produced abundantly, some up to several million units. Among these, only orchids, hold economic importance both for local uses and export whereas others are consumed mainly in the local market.

ON: Where the cultivation is concentrated?
Orchid cultivation has been confined in the Central Plain, mainly in Bangkok and its nearby provinces, where climatic conditions, water, transportation and marketing system are the most favorable. Orchid production abounds mainly in three provinces, i.e. Samutsakorn, Bangkok and Nakornpathom followed by the nearby central provinces and a little bit in the North and the South of Thailand. The estimated total area for orchid cultivation in 2001 was about 17,000 rais (a 6.25 rais = 1 hectare). Suitable environment, high orchid genetic diversity, efficient infrastructure, experienced growers, technology applications, extension, training, teaching and research, as well as business skills, have contributed enormously to the success of orchids in Thailand (Thammasiri, 1997). Many farmers have made orchid growing as their main occupation, being a better earner than other crops. Orchid production is made easier by over 10 tissue culture laboratories. Marketing is facilitated for growers by over 50 export organizations engaged exclusively in orchids.

ON: It seems that the history of the Thai orchid industry and the cultivation in your country are quite peculiar and at the beginning it was not so popular. What can you tell us about?
KT: Although Thailand is a natural habitat for over 1,100 species of orchids, orchid growing started as an expensive hobby for the rich and the elite about 90 years ago and the interest to grow cultivars of economic value was first recorded in 1913 with the introduction of some exotic materials by a foreigner working in Thailand. Having a hobby to grow orchids, he brought cattleyas and some other genera to Bangkok all of which were subsequently sold to Krommamerntivakornwong. Several other high ranks and files in the country also became interested in orchid growing as a hobby during the same period. In 1917, Prince Krompranakornwanvorapinit translated and published “Orchid Growing”, as the first book on orchids in the Thai language. The enthusiasm for orchid growing faded for a little while in the Thai society with the passing away of some old orchidists. A further setback was received with the abrupt change in the country’s political system in 1932. However, the introduction of Dendrobium Pompadour, in 1934, proved to be a landmark that also brought in popularity for orchid cultivation in Thailand. This particular species was found easy to grow and propagate by division, besides the fact that it produced high yield and had a long vase-life. Some useful publications, viz., “How to use fertilizers for orchids and other plants” and “Techniques in orchid growing, propagation and aseptic seed germination” were published in the ’50s which proved quite useful to the orchid industry.

ON: You said that Dendrobium Pompadour proved to be a landmark, could you tell us what exactly does it mean?
KT: The introduction of Dendrobium Pompadour was proved to be a landmark that also brought in popularity for orchid cultivation in Thailand. Orchid production technology (plant improvement, tissue culture, greenhouses, planting materials and containers, pest control, production, postharvest and packaging technology) replaced traditional growing which imitated natural growing. This resulted in high yield and quality of flowers and plants. In 1966, only a small amount of orchid cut-flowers were exported from Thailand to some European countries, but the country attained the status of the world’s leading producer and exporter of orchids in a little over a decade and it continues to hold the top rank since 1979. Orchids will continue to dominate other ornamental crops in Thailand due to better technology know-how, suitable climatic conditions, experienced and skilful growers and exporters as well as their nation wide popularity. Apart from all these, orchids are a symbol of Thailand that reflects the country’s pride internationally.

ON: What was the part of the Thailand orchid society?
KT: The Orchid Society of Thailand was founded, under the Royal Patronage, in 1957, by Prof. Rapee Sagarik who earlier became associated with growing and studying Thai orchid species in 1947. Teaching orchid growing to the public has been encouraged, through regular classes, radio and television broadcasting initiated in the ’60s; introduction of orchidology courses and initiation of research at the Kasetsart University also began during the same period. A collaboration, initially for three years, was taken up in 1962, between the University of Hawaii and the Department of Horticulture at Kasetsart University that help strengthening of teaching and research work on orchid cytogenetics and breeding. Orchid tissue culture work was started at Chulalongkorn University, in 1967, on dendrobiums, cattleyas and Rhynchostylis gigantea by Prof. Dr. Thavorn Vajrabhaya, which was subsequently extended to the Kasetsart University and the Chiangmai University.

ON: The orchid trade has an important part in the economy of the country, especially the exportation. How does it start and work?
KT: Thailand has a long history of orchid trade, especially for export. It is estimated that 54 percent of the orchids produced are exported and the rest 46 percent consumed in the domestic market. The export of orchid cut-flower was initiated in 1963 with a few hundred-thousand spray of mostly Dendrobium Pompadour sent to European market. The export of cut-flower orchids still predominates and the export value of them increased sharply but orchid plants has also been on a rapid increase. Until 1966, only small amount of orchid cut-flowers were exported from Thailand to some European countries, but the country attained the status of the world’s leading producer and exporter of orchids in a little over a decade and it continues to hold the top rank since 1979. Import of ornamental plants and flowers, especially orchid plants and cut-flowers has been relatively low, because Thailand has a large variety of indigenous tropical orchids which are inexpensive and also of good quality.

ON: Which are the reasons for such success?
KT: The key factors responsible for success of orchid production and trade vis-a-vis economy in Thailand may be the bavourable climates, availability of good quality water in plenty; leadership in adoption and popularization of orchid cultivation; richness of indigenous orchid genetic resources; improved production technology, greenhouses, containers, postharvest processing, quality control, packaging and transport and their application in orchid trade; Efficient communication networks and international acceptance vis-a-vis maintenance of standards. Thai orchidists, from both the public and private sectors, have developed and improved orchid production technology in relation to plant improvement propagation, tissue culture, pest control, and postharvest management, which help to increase yield and quality, thereby directly enhancing production, quantity of export and the export value over the last 30 years.

ON: What could be your conclusion?
KT: Thai orchid production for the world markets has a bright future. The export values are high and quite stable. Orchids will continue to dominate other ornamental crops in Thailand due to better technology know-how, suitable climatic conditions, experienced and skilful growers and exporters as well as their nation wide popularity.
A success story of orchids in Thailand is a good example of development of an ornamental crop, which does not fall in the category of staple food, to have become the major crop of this country. It took a long time to be accepted gradually but firmly for earning high income and thereby enhancing the agrarian economy which can follow suit.

New Dendrobium hybrids for cut-flowers


New vandaceous hybrids for cut-flowers

Orchid growing for cut-flowers in Thailand

Photos by Kanchit Thammasiri

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