The Improvement of Thai Durian by Farmers:
The Case of Chatri Sovarntrakul and the Thai Durian Gallery Orchard
(as told to Witoon Lianchamroon) 1
Most modern durian orchards grow a few durian varieties and most consumers know only three
varieties of durian such as Mawn-tawng (gold pillow), Cha-nee (gibbon) and Gahn-yao (long
peduncle). At the Suan La-ong Fa (SLF), Chom Sowarntrakul, Chatri's father is conserving more
than fifty highly valuable Thai durian varieties. The experience is very valuable in the present day
era of commercial plantation in Thailand. The experiences of Chom and his youngest son Chatri,
must be documented because of its significance for Thai genetic resource base conservation,
particularly on durian.
From generation to generation and from one community to another community, agricultural
biodiversity has been continually conserved since it is equated with food security and survival for
many farmers. However, under commercialism and market economy, plant and animal genetic
resources have been severely eroded.
The advent of the green revolution had further contributed to the loss of local varieties and
knowledge of farmers and communities on genetic conservation and improvement. Modern
breeding dissociated farmers and communities from genetic conservation and improvement. Worst,
local genetic resources were dragged into the national or international agricultural research centers
and institutes, away from their traditional custodians. As a result, the farmers and local
communities were not given due recognition for their innumerable contributions to agricultural
In general sense, the real contribution of farmers and communities is not only the tangible genetic
resources and its richness but also the holistic local wisdom embedded in these resources.
2. Chom Sovarntrakul and the Thai durian varieties
Chom, Chatri’s father, who pioneered the SLF used to be a forester at Utaradit. He was born in
Wat Sutat’s to wall-drawing artist family. Chatri said that his grandfather got married to his
grandmother who has an orchard family background from Si Praya, Thonburi. However, Chom did
not learn about drawing because his father passed away when he was eleven years old.
After Chatri’s grandmothers' death, Chom resigned from being a forester and started working in a
durian orchard at Thonburi. Chom got married to Hun Srisawang. The couple had five children
BioThai, 801/8 Soi Ngamwongwan 27,Ngarmwongwan, Rd. Muang,Nonthaburi 11000,
included Thosang (1942), Vachira (1946), Chalosak (1948), Chavalit (1955) and the youngest,
When he was 40-years old, Chom had stomach problem so he can only worked in the orchard.
Because of his mother’s background and his previous experience while working in Utaradit, he
became interested in durian. He told his children about the Utaradit local durian that was very
strong and resistant to many biotic and abiotic factors. The farmers collect durian seeds from the
forests where the seeds germinate and grew naturally. During that time durian was rare, low
yielding and expensive. The consumers would buy durian from the orchard owners only. Durians
from areas of Prajeanburi or Rayoung were unknown.
In 1942, Bangkok and Thonburi experienced long-periods of flooding. Almost all mature durian
trees were dying. To cope with the crisis, Chom bought durian woods from others and resold them
for income. The amount of money was divided for family food and new durian stocks from
Nontaburi which were expensive. He also traveled to collect durian seeds from the garbage bins of
rich people living in areas such as Sumpeng, Yaovaraj, and Banglumpoo.
All the seeds collected were grown along the riverbank of his two-rai (there are 6.2 rais per
hectare). The Thonburi orchard is ideal for durian growing because of its rich alluvial soil and it is
free from agrochemicals. They dug fertile alluvium soil and use it for garden bed. By closely
observing the growth of durians from planting to fruits sharpened Chom’s knowledge on durian
identification. By simply looking at their leaves, he could identify and classify different durian
varieties. Most durian trees from seedlings have particular characteristics and he noted all of them.
If the durian trees had cross pollinated, he named them accordingly, say for example the variety,
La-ong fa. In time, he was growing more than two hundred durian trees from seedling.
In 1964, the Charunsanitwong road that cut through the Thonburi orchard was built. Some durian
trees started dying due to salt-water intrusion hence, salinity. The place therefore was not good for
durian growing anymore. Chom decided to find a new location for his durian orchard. As a
preparation for the transfer, all the children were asked to do air-layering (marcotting) of the
different durian varieties in their orchard.
3. The establishment the Suan La-ong Fa durian orchard
The 30-Rai Suan La-ong Fa plantation, that evolved into the Thai durian variety gallery, was
started in 1965 by Chom. It used to be paddy field, with abundant growth of "ya-ka" (Imperata
cylindrica (Linn) Beauv.) and shrubs but not so many trees. There is a waterfall and hills nearby the
With his Uncle Lek, a friend of Chom, whose hometown was in Nakhornayok province, Chom
carefully surveyed the surrounding area several times before eventually purchasing the land. One
criteria for the choice of the present land was his observation, that the temple in the area is named
“Wat Kao Durian”. This implied to him that durian was a familiar species growing in the area.
According to local residents, there was only seasonal wind known as "Songkran wind" that occurs
before the rainy season. However, the wind velocity is not strong enough for durian growing. The
village is called “Ban Hublouk” because it located in the deep valley. During rainy season or when
the air contains high moisture content, there are drizzles all over the area. This is the reason why
the durian orchard was named “Suan La-ong Fa” (meaning sky drizzle).
Water wells can be found all over the orchard because the place used to be Japanese military
base. In the establishment of the orchard, Chom used a rough road that was built by the
Japanese. Japanese bombs and Japanese soldiers were constant threats to his safely. During the
development of the orchard, Chom was practically cut off from the outside world. He only had a
small radio and he goes to do shopping for fuel and basic needs only once a month..
4. Sustainable and natural durian production system
Growing durian trees in Nakhonnayok is different from the usual ditch-bed method used in the flat
lowlands of Thonburi and Nonthaburi. Durian requires an abundant water supply in good soil with
In 'modern' durian production, trees are grown in holes dug to hold water during the dry season.
Liberal amounts of synthetic soluble chemical fertilisers are applied. After years of establishment,
hard soil surface with high water surface runoff is common. Hence, after a few years, the durian
trees tend to die due to water deficit. The mainstream horticulturist opined that this is by a fungal
disease. However, according to Chom, this dying out is caused by excessive use of chemical
fertilisers because this 'disease' was never a problem until chemical fertilizer was used. According
to him, addition of chemical fertiliser to durian trees results to succulent leaves. After three years of
use of chemicals, the root system is concentrated in the upper soil layers. Together with the hard
soil surface, these are the causes of deterioration of the durian trees. The trees became
susceptible to wind damage because as the trees sway, the root system are destroyed. This
makes the trees susceptible to pathogenic fungi and insects attack. Under this condition, even
addition of expensive pesticides, will not improve the situation.
In his orchard, Chom used a different approach. The boles of durian trees are planted slightly
above ground that was mulched all over. Initially, rice straw was used as mulching material and
liberal amounts of compost are applied around the boles. He ensures that the soil is very fertile
and with good drainage. Chom had tried chemical fertilizer but stopped its use after he observed
the negative effects. He now believed that using chemicals on durian trees is a deviation from
nature. He compares the use of chemicals in agriculture to the habit-forming drugs in man, i.e. the
consumption of increasing amounts with time until total dependency. Chom's son Chatri said:
“When my father quit using chemical fertilizers, his image and refutation
among many farmers and consumers went down. This is because they equate the
use of chemical substances to modern farming and that the person is well
educated and can speak both English and Thai. When told by the university-
trained horticulturist, that all his durian trees would die without chemical use, my
father responded “My trees will be OK, diseases can be cured.” He showed me
how to scrap off the diseased bark and how to apply lime (red type) on it. He
would later show me “the growth of new healthy tissues" and the recovery of the
durian trees. From then on, I feel very confident because I know that we were on
the right track.”
Chom is very interested in study durian, its leaves, peduncles, spikes, stems and forms of
branches. He would brag to his children that his durian trees more beautiful than the others
because "the growth habit of the trees is not clumsy". The spikes are more natural, not swollen or
broken which are common when chemicals are used. Chom was great a admirer of the nature.
Unlike other durian growers, Chom does not thin the lateral branches that are usually small and are
considered unproductive. He believed that durian trees store food in these lateral branches that are
used by the trees during the harsh dry season for survival. While shaded leaves are expected to
senesce during summer, the more fully exposed leaves are retained and support the trees needs
until the dry season is over. To validate his belief, he conducted a simple on-farm research to
compare the recommended textbook thinning of all lateral branches with the natural practice. He
confirmed that the natural method (non-thinning) was better. He observed that during the fruit
bearing stage, there are more leaf senescence in the thinned orchard than in the natural method.
During the dry season, hired workers who are paid eight Baht per day do supplemental watering of
trees on young durian seedlings. Later, used a pump to convey water from the Japanese wells to
his durian trees.
In the beginning in 1965, Chom was growing 30-40 durian varieties in his plantation. These are are
mainly propagation from the Thonburi orchard. With time, Chom continue to expand his durian
collection. At present, there are 53 distinct varieties of durian at Suan La-ong Fa. Depending on
cultivation method, vegetatively propagated and seedlings bears fruit in about 3-5 and 5-10 years,
respectively. In 1973, almost all the durian trees at Suan La-ong Fa began to produce fruits.
Chom also purchased another 12-rai orchard at Salika to grow durian trees. However, because of
drought and lack of time, most seedlings did not survive. This orchard is now planted to diverse
fruit crop species and under the supervision of Vachira, the eldest brother.
5. Thai durian varieties
The 53 varieties of durians at Suan La-ong Fa have unique characteristics.
One of the most popular variety is the Mawn-tawng that was introduced to Chom about 50 years
ago. Mawn-tawng is an ideal variety for industrial durian plantations because it has perfect canopy,
attractive color, thick aril and flat seeds. It is responsive to chemical fertilizer and thinning.
However, Chom thinks that Mawn-tawng has trunk and has big seeds.
The other varieties of durians in the Suan La-ong Fa durian gallery orchard as described by Chatri
are as follows:
1. La-ong Fa (meaning 'sky drizzle'), has special characteristics intermediate between
Mawn-tawng and Gahn-yao. This variety has similar tree form as Mawn-tawng but has
smaller leaves. It is an early maturing tree. The external appearance of the fruit is
generally similar to both Gahn-yao in spike color, shape, and direction and Mawn-
tawng in structure, overall shape with spiral bottom. The fruit texture and flavor are
halfway between Mawn-tawng and Gahn-yao.
2. Gahn-yao (meaning 'long peduncle') is a tall durian tree with clumsy branches, and
long and thin peduncle. There are three different kinds of Gahn-yao., namely; wat sak,
soung huat and soung glom. Generally, Gahn-yao wat sak fruit is oblong. Suan-La-
ong Fa has Gahn-yao soung huat (a kind of wide mouthed perforated earthen pot for
steaming food), oblong-round and narrow down to bottom. It appears to be a variety
out of natural mutation. The Gahn-yao soung glom (round) has bigger seeds and
rounder fruit with thicker spikes. Gahn-yao soung huat has less variable fruit shape,
better taste, and has yellowish arils.
3. Med nai gahn-yao soung huat developed from seedling is approximately a 100-year
old variety and is a well-known durian variety. It differs from Gahn-yao, because it has
short and hard peduncle, and different spike direction. The fruit is roundish with narrow
bottom. The fruit is yellowish and has good taste with tiny fiber. In Nakhornnayok, it
has high yield biannually. It is quite sensitive to climatic changes.
4. Mawn-tawng khou tho (meaning 'peduncle ring') is an indigenous durian variety from
Chantaburi. It has distinct characteristics such as vivid peduncle ring, twisted fruit. The
fruit flavor is similar to Mawn-tawng but it has bigger core and tougher rind.
5. Mawn-tawng- khou-son (meaning 'short peduncle') originated from Chantaburi but
the best quality fruits are produced in Rayong. The fruit has short peduncle with
oblong-narrow-bottom. It has many but fine loculi, easily splits with small core and dark
yellow aril. The fruit taste like Mawn-tawng.
6. Original Mawn-tawng ripens faster than modern Mawn-tawng. In 1957, there used to
be a competition for the best variety of original Mawn-tawng. Fruit taste is similar to
moderrn Mawn-tawng but the aril skin is thinner.
7. Cha-nee (gibbon) belongs to the early-maturing group of durian. The fruit is attached
on the curve branches, including the smaller ones. From a distance, it looks like a
female gibbon with her baby. Cha-nee has long peduncle, round fruit, plenty seed, but
a lot of aril if the seed is flat. It is easy to cultivate and has wide adaptability (can be
grown everywhere), since it is insensitively to climate changes. However, if rain
occurs three days before harvest, the tree would absorb and store the water inside fruit
causing the seed to germinate. Cha-nee is resistant to Phytoptera disease.
8. Cha-nee-gahn-yao has longer peduncle than Cha-nee. The aril is also different from
Cha-nee, i.e. it is thinner. For people who dislike the durian aroma, Cha-nee-gahn-yao
is very popular since its smell is not very strong. Also, the ripe aril is not bitter. Another
popular name for this variety Cha-nee-nam-tan-sai ( meaning 'sugar').
9. Khang-Cha-nee is a new variety bred from Cha-nee and Laung. In terms of overall
appearance, the spike direction and shape is similar Chanee. Fruit form is similar to
Laung and is very big. The peduncle is similar the Chom-poo-see (pink)variety and is
rough and scaly. Aril color is light yellow, like Mawn-tawng but the taste is like Yam-
mae-wad, a very rich durian. This characterization is taken from the first year fruits.
10. Laung (deceive) is an original variety belonging to the early maturing group. At the
first year of fruit bearing, they are deceptive fruits which large capsules. It appears
that there are a lot of arils but this is not true. The arils are fibrous, yellowish in color,
sweet and tasty with tempting aroma. The weak point of the Laung variety is that the
core drenches very fast during rainy season and it is sensitive to climate. Orchard
owners who want to harvest before the others use this variety. In this variety, the late
flowers should be pruned.
11. Laung-thong (golden Laung) is another variation of the Laung variety. It has bigger
fruit, golden rind, and dimpled bottom. It usually bears fruit during the dry years at the
same time as Cha-nee but the number of fruits is low.
12. Med-nai-laung (internal seed Laung) is a natural mutant derived from Laung seedling.
The fruit shape and arils are variable. One selection has smaller but tastier fruits while
another selection has bigger fruit size but is sensitive to climatic changes.
13. Chom-poo-see (pink) is another ancient variety that originated from Laung. The
aroma, fruit shape, and spike direction are similar to Laung, but it has greener rind and
dark brown scaly peduncle and pink arils.
14. Kra-dum (button), is an old variety belonging to the early-maturing-group. Durian
growers use this variety for produce early season fruit. Fruit size is small while seed
size is big. It has bright yellow aril, tasty and less fibrous fruits.
15. Kra-dum-thong (golden kra-dum) has yellow rind when ripe. It came from the Kra-
dum seedling, but has bigger fruits and more arils with very yellow color. Close core
arils are hard if there is abundant rain
16. .Med-nai-kra-dum (internal seed kra-dum) is a mutation from the Kra-dum seedling. It
has oblong fruits with longer capsule. Fug-kao is also Kra-dum seedling.
17. Kra-dum-keaw (green kra-dum) has big fruits, similar to Kra-dum-thoung. A rain
resistant variety, fruits are produced late in rainy season. This variety is not productive
18. Fug-Kao (Momordica) came from Kra-dum and is a variety very resistant to climate
changes. It has a very short peduncle and spike. Spike base is wide but small. Fruit
shape is similar momordica fruit. It has a very distinguished aril.
19. Thong-hyod (a kind of Thai dessert made of egg yolk and sugar), is a new variety at
the SL. It is a cross-breed between Kob-chai-nam (a shore frog) and Kra-dum. Kob-
chai-nam has a shiny or waxy rind. It looks like Kradum but its spike base is wider. Its
fruit aroma is similar to Kob-chai-nam’s.
19. Nok-yip (a kind of bird), was selected from a branch of Kra-dum. It has small fruits,
and is known for its spikiness. It has narrow spike base, tasty fruit with thick arils.
20. Kob-mae-thow (an old lady frog) is a very old variety of durian. It is the origin of
present variety Kob. It has a flat bottom and is resistant to climate changes.
21. Kob-leb-yeaw (hawk’s nail) has aril taste that is similar to Kob-mae-thow. However, it
has longer spike, and narrower bottom.
22. Kob-chai-nam (a shore frog) is a hundred year old variety that came from
Bangkhunnon. It grows well around shore locations where it originated. It is resistant to
rain and climate. It has thick and shiny rind, two-seed-surface section and aromatic
23. Kob-ta-khum (an old man frog) came from Bangkhunnon. It is a mutation of the
variety Kob-mae-thow.. Compared to Kob-mae-thow, its rind is thicker and its capsule
is vivid. The aril is similar to Kob-mae-thow but is sweeter and more yellow in color.
24. Kob-bao (early-maturing-Kob) has big fruits with thin rind. Its arils are similar to Mawn-
tawng.The seed is fast maturing and core becomes slushy quickly. Its fruiting occurs at
about the same time as Laung but they become overripe faster.
25. Kob-su-van (golden Kob) has a long green spike which is similar to Gahn-yao, but
with shorter peduncle. This variety is very sensitive to climate changes especially rain.
The seed is fast maturing. Aril color is very yellow.
26. Thong-yoy-shut (a many-tiered umbrella Thong-yoy) is another ancient clone that
came original from Thong-yoy. It is a tall, large and strong tree with branches going
out to 4-5 directions. It is sensitive to climate changes but productive every other year.
It has big fruit weighing about 3 kg. For fruits in cluster, sizes are smaller. Its arils are a
little fibrous but have rich taste with attractive color and aroma.
27. Ga-teay-neuah-leong (sterile seed with yellowish aril) is very similar to Cha-nee with
big size fruits. The arils are fibrous, succulent, sweet but overripe fast. In some years
the arils are tastier if it is not too juicy. The seed does not germinate.
28. Ga-teay-neuah-khao (sterile seed with white aril) is known for its very distinguished
sweetness. It can be eaten even the fruit is still unripe. Its aril is white with almost
same color as the inside rind. Harvesting is a challenge because if it is picked too
early (even if done only 2-3 days before it is ready to be picked), the taste is not sweet.
The best harvesting time is 2-3 days before the fruits fall naturally. In the past, people
liked to eat an unripe fruit. The seed of this variety does not germinate.
29. Ga-teay-khou-son (sterile seed with short peduncle) fruit is optimum size (about 2 kg)
with flat seeds. Its peduncle is short. The aril's taste is similar to Mawn-tawng and is
very sweet if overripe. It almost never has a hard or slushy core. It is resistant to
climate changes. Chom was really proud of this clone because it was awarded variety
30. Ga-teay-khou-son-nam-yao (sterile seed/short peduncle/long spike) is a selection
from Ga-teay-khou-son. Only one of three grafts was similar to mother stock. Its spike
is longer and greener than Ga-teay-khou-son. Its aril is variable depending on climate.
31. Khum-pun-neuah-laung (a strong box/yellow aril) is a variety derived from Mawn-
tawng. Its external appearance is similar to Mawn-tawng but the fruit is not twisted.
Fruit shape is well rounded and it contains a lot of thin-skinned aril. It is often produced
during the rainy season. Seed germination of this variety is very fast.
32. Khum-pun-neuah-khao (a strong box / white aril) has a lot of white creamy arils. It is
a good type of durian but it overripes fast; the rind is very tough to split out.
33. Khum-pun-poung (a strong box / cluster fruit) is another kind of Khum-pun-neuah-
khao but produces short peduncle cluster fruits.
34. Khum-pun-Bang-see-tawng (a strong box / a name of a place in Nonthaburi) is
similar to Khum-pun-neuah-laung but has a different canopy form. It is originally from
Bangseetawng, Nonthaburi, where fruiting occurs before rain. At SLF, it fruits during
35. Sao-noi-ruoan-ngam (little lady in a nice house) is a plump durian that looks like a
pumpkin. It has few but big spike base. There are usually five sections that are short.
It was named after Kob-khan-son at Chunthaburi, a very famous place where it grows
very well. It belongs to the early maturing group. The arils are orange in color and is
36. Dang-sao-noi (a red little lady) has individual fruit that has only one capsule. The aril
is variable yellow depending on location where it is grown.
37. Son-klin (tuberose) has very little aroma even ripe. Fruit shape is similar to Mawn-
tawng but it has small spikes. It is very easy to see the line on the rind that was
created from separated spike rows. The taste is variable and is dependent on the
38. Thong-dang (copper). The old name was Mawn-keaw (green-pillow) because the
flower syrup is green in oclor. Tree canopy is similar to Mawn-tawng. Fruit is oval,
with five capsules. Ripe arils are a little bit dry with not too strong aroma.
39. Thong-mai (new gold) is a very old famous durian from Bangkok. It has an oblong fruit
with greenish rind. Because it is climate sensitive there is an increasing number of
people growing it. Even it rains, not all fruit ripens. However, in some years, the aril
taste is very good.
40. Pin-thoung (a golden hairpin) is another ancient clone. The name might have come
from a Muslim name or its stamen looks like golden hairpin. It has a perfect fruit shape
similar to Son-glin but it has different aril. This variety is very sensitive to climate. For
instance, if rain is abundant when fruit is almost mature, water would be fill the
capsules causing the seeds to germinate inside the fruit
41. Hemma-raj (a kind of swan) is a big durian averaging 3-4 kg per fruit. It produces a
big cluster fruit. Fruit shape is oval with straight loculi. The spike is long and sharp. The
aril color is attractive pink. Fruit aroma is not very strong. If it rains, the bottom easily
42. Tool-ta-wauy (to give offerings to the King) is an out of season fruit before. It is similar
to Khum-pun-neuah-laung and is sensitive to climate. It derives its name when Chatri’s
mother sold at discounted price it to an old lady who in turn offered it to King Rama IV
who was then a Buddhist monk. When the newspapers reported that the King had
eaten this fabulous durian, the variety became very famous. Nowadays, it is not out of
43. Nom-sod (fresh milk). Chom acquired a grafting of this durian variety because its
leaves were like Mawn-tawng but has different fruit. The fruit is inferior to Mawn-tawn.
It has thick rind, white color and has less aril. The ripe aril is sweet and soft, almost
watery. Fruit taste is never bitter.
44. Chai-ma-fai (male / a kind of fruit in Euphorbiaceae) is another ancient variety of
durian. It derives its name from the first owner who live near a Euphorbiaceae tree.
The rind is red and the aril is very yellow. It is sweet and overripe very fast.
45. Chai-mong-kut (male / mangosteen) is resistant to climatic changes. At SLF, it does
not produce fruit yet because the tree is still young. It is an early season fruit. It has
fibrous and nicely colored aril with pleasant aroma. Its fruit core is not damaged even
when it rains.
46. Lam-jeak (the screw pine) has a noble canopy form. Fruit shape is similar to Sao-
chom which is oblong in shape. The aril is cream colored.
47. Khun-non (Nonthaburi noble man) is a primitive durian variety. In Bangkok, it used to
be a very prolific tree. The tree is large with big sized fruit that taste same as Gahn-
yao. At SLF, the tree is shorter with smaller fruit It has hard aril when and has big
48. Sao-chom (a lady) is sometimes called Cham-pa (Michelia champaca). It has fragile
branches that require specialized husbandry practices. The rind is always green even
when ripe. It is best eaten when it is half-ripe when the taste is at its best. After which,
the taste gets bitter.
49. Yam-mae-what (an elder’s bag) is named so because the fruit shape is alike elder’s
bag. It has thick arils with flat seed and curve loculi. It is less sweet than Mawn-tawng.
The aril taste is chewy and greasy. This variety should be harvested at the proper
time. If harvested too late, the seed would absorb moisture from aril.
50. E-nuk (heavy) is the biggest durian. Some can weigh as much as 20 kg. It is an ideal
durian variety with thin rind, big and oblong single fruit, small peduncle, good direction
and appropriately sized spike. It has five perfect loculi. It belongs to the late maturing
group that matures after the rainy season. It is insensitive to climate. However, core is
very tough, hard to split out.
6. Chom Sovarntrakul : his philosophy of work, beauty and wealth
Chom established the Suan La-ong Fa with love and forward-looking attitude with very little
concern for economic profit. He grew durians because he loved and appreciated durian's beauty.
According to Chatri,
“My father did not go into the arts like my grandfather. However, the
growing of durian could be an art itself - the art of working the earth. He first
acknowledged the beauty, then the quality and finally the sustainability. He would
sometimes observe the durian and its changes until it was overripe and become
black before he would cut it for his children.
“In the past, I can not understand him. I thought that he was crazy. In his
view, all durian varieties are good. For instance, I used to think that Laung and
even Mawn-tawng are not good durians at all. He explained to me that if
produced early, they are was great fragrant fruits.
Chom was a forward-looking person. He worked so hard to so that the local durian varieties would
get attention they deserve from the people. This is one of the reasons why he would record durian
characteristics, such as stem, branches, leaves, etc. on the video. Unfortunately, during those
times, we, his children did not understand him and we used those videocassettes for other
Most of his thoughts and ideas were unacceptable to others, including us, his own children. For
example, his dislike for the use of chemical fertilizers. He also tell people that he does not work for
money. For this and other beliefs, many people thought that he was an abnormal old man. Not to
many people can understand him. Even if his customers acted or talked impolitely because they
can not understand him, he simply ignored them. According to Chatri,
“Living with durian bounded my father and the tree together. He would often say
that trees could talk to us, they had spirits to contact us and they know whether we
love them or not. Seeing a growing tree would strengthen him physically. His
recovery from illnesses, such as his stomach disease, came about because of the
Chom worked in the Suan La-ong Fa durian orchard until his dying days (he died at the ripe old
age of 89 years
7. Chatri Sovarntrakul and his father's philosophy
One of the most important issues in agriculture is that farmers’ children tend not to go into farming.
They abandon the farms that their parents had started. Many times, the parents also do not want
their children to work on farms because they do not want them to experience what they
experienced. Chatri’s case is much more difficult because inheriting SLF is not only inheriting a
durian orchard, but also its heritage.
By a lucky twist of fate for the Sovarntrakul family, Chom allowed his youngest son to study in an
art school instead of an agricultural college. In the art school, Chatri was educated to be a free
thinking individual. In an agricultural college, thinking is much more restricted and biased for the
western commercial farming.
Chatri first studied law at Ramkhumhang University for one year. Then, he found that he was more
interested in art. Hence, he transferred to study art at Art College. He became a student of two very
prestigious Thai artists: Arjan Feor Haripituks and Arjan Sawas Tuntisuk. Because of his less-lively
line drawings, Arjan Feor taught Chatri to draw hundreds of lines and asked him to choose one.
Arjan Feor told him to learn from Wat Sutat’s wall drawing since it was beautiful, and free and it sis
a lively-line-drawing. It was Chatri’s grandfather who was the painter leader, who did Wat Sutat’s
wall-drawing pictures. When he went back home, and looked at the Buddha picture that his
grandfather drew, he saw the beauty that Arjan Feor was teaching. It was not beauty as a fine art,
but it reflected pure spirit, pure art. Chatri said that his father Chom was very proud of him that he
decided to learn art. His father would say, “at least a child is following grandfather's footstep”
After graduation, Chatri followed Arjan Sawas to See-chung Island to practice his vocation.
However, working for pure art can not make him survive. So Arjan Sawas suggested to him to
open a grocery store. His wife tended the store, same as what the other artists such Prataung
Aimcharean and Jang Sae-tung used to do.
In 1992, the year of his fathers' death, Chatri still lived at the See-chung Island. His oldest sister
resigned from her teaching job and took care of both the SLF and their mother. Because of lack of
farming skills, the orchard income was insufficient to support their daily need of about 30,000-
40,000 Baht (about 1000 US dollars at 2001 exchange rate) annually. Finally, in 1995, Chatri
decided to help his sister manage the durian orchard. He took over the responsibility for 15 rais
where the Thai durian varieties are planted. His goal in working art was for pure art not economic
reasons. Similarly, his father's goal working in the orchard is not for economic reasons
While living in the orchard, Chatri came to absorb and understand his father's philosophy more and
more. He is proud of his father, especially, his father’s teaching about the value of work. In the past
he did not understand his father when he would say, “ do not work for money”. Not too many
people would understand this because " he is thinking at a different level ". Generally, when
farmers have to decide what kind of trees to grow, their decision would depend on whatever tree is
most profitable. Chatri would say, "if everyone will go on like this, they will trapped unnoticed.”
Businessmen, both in Bangkok and south of Thailand, and some academics, had contacted Chatri
to produce and commercialize grafted local durian varieties. The price of each grafted durian is
about 200 Baht per grafting. However, he declined the offer because he believes that promotion of
local durian to customers without knowledge about those varieties characteristic would indirectly
destroy the local varieties. For Chatri, all durian varieties are significant. Hence, when ask by
customers which are the best variety, his reply would be: “There is no direct answer because I like
them all." However, he freely shares information about the varieties which he got from his
numerous customers because he also retails durian
8. The Future of Suan La-ong Fa
Chatri narrated that that before his father died, he planned to go to see him at See-chung Island
where he was at the time. He was told that his father wants him to take over the orchard to him,
particularly the care and conservation of the local durian varieties that his father collected and
selected all his life. This is his main reason why his focus is on conservation of the local durian
Recently, income at the SLF is insufficient for himself and the worker's families. This is a serious
issue that he has to address. Despite the many problems, he says that he is guided by the
Samahdhi (Buddhism) characterized by concentration, calmness, tranquility and acknowledgement
on where we are, and where do we want to go.
His philosophy can be summarized as follows:
First, he would do his best to conserve all the durian varieties that were collected and nurtured by
his father for the future. In addition he will continue collecting new varieties to be grown at the SLF..
His future plan is to grow them in a smaller space to enable him to plant more varieties.
Furthermore, he would also collect jackfruit (Artocarpus) varieties because the wood is good for
many useful purposes. In the closer rows, trees are expected to grow straight. He will then select
good varieties for propagation.
Second, he will continue practicing organic farming of SLF. For Chatri, conservation is not just to
protect the existing resources. After practicing organic farming, he is now convinced, as his father
before him, that there is a lot to learn from nature and this should guide farmers to adapt
husbandry practices according to nature. His organic production system is not just for image or
Third, marketing is providing what customers needed at the time and at the same time providing
guarantee for the product being sold. Chatri sells some of his durian at his wife’s grocery store. His
price is higher than the others. If the prevailing price is 10 baht/kg., he sells his for 15 baht.
However, a guarantee, his customers could return or change the durian, if they don’t like what he
has selected for them. Based on his years of experience, customers from the South prefer ripe
durian. Some people neither eat nor like durian because they have may never taste the durian
variety that suits their taste. For people who says that they do no tliek durian at all. He would
propose the variety Thong-dang because it has very little aroma. He can always find a durian
variety, being very familiar with their characteristics, for every type of customer with varying
To succeed with durian variety conservation in the long term, he and other growers must
collaborate with each other. He thinks that this is possible if each province have a network or
groups that growers can contact for collective marketing of their produce.
Chom’s earlier efforts and Chatri Sowarntrakul's future plan of SLF are for all the Thai farmers and
improvement of agriculture of Thailand. According to Chatri,
“When I am with my tree in the orchard, I feel safe. I could feel my father and his
handiwork. I am committed to try my very best to fulfill my father’s intention. Truth
is universal, and this is the reason why my father and I think similarly. If we learn
and obey nature, we would see the same truth and its significance. It will be easy
to see the truth only if we let go of our greed”.