“Plant breeding has always been at the heart of our orchid business, from the beginning to the present,” says Akenat Kujaroenchaimanatee, the founder and owner of Mana Orchid, an orchid farm that spreads across 60 acres in Nakhon Pathom province.
Akenat started his farm 30 years ago after benefiting from the opportunity to learn plant breeding with a professor from the University of Hawaii. From the very first day, he has collaborated with academics and applied a scientific method on the farm. While most orchid growers select parent orchids mainly on aesthetic grounds, Mana Orchid also considers genetic robustness, which is crucial for long-term sustainability. The farm has successfully developed hundreds of new varieties, including the famous Suree Peach, a rare light coral coloured Dendrobium orchid.
Apart from cultivating high-quality orchids to sell both as cut flowers and potted plants, Akenat has also developed a drying method that can retain most of the flowers’ original colours. The dried flowers are then coated with resin and designed into home decor items and accessories, such as preserved orchid arrangement, brooches and necklaces. But he hasn’t stopped there.
“I want to make orchids more than just ornamental plants,” Akenat says.
A few years ago, he felt compelled to diversify the business due to rising production costs, such as fertiliser, labour and transportation. He learned during a trip to China that the Chinese continue to use orchids for medicinal purposes to this day, despite the fact that the plant is globally known mainly for its ornamental and aromatic properties.
Inspired by the trip, Akenat worked with experts to find new opportunities for his farm. A food scientist suggested that one of his orchid breeds, Black Pearl, might be high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant found in deep red, purple and blue plants, so he submitted a sample to a laboratory for confirmation. According to the research, the Black Pearl orchid contains three times more antioxidants than other breeds. Anthocyanins possess antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-obesity properties.
The Black Pearl orchids were cultivated in a separate area of the farm, with a special technique to ensure safety and hygiene. They were then made into orchid tea and desserts; all are exclusively sold at Sang Jaroen Café, the farm’s chinese-style café.
Recently, the farm launched its first skin care product, Black Orchid Rejuvenate Serum, made from Black Orchid Extract. Black Pearl is protected under the Plant Varieties Protection Act B.E. 2542 (1999), while the Black Orchid Extract is FDA-approved for use in food, cosmetics and beverages.
Akenat states that many pioneer consumers have given positive feedback on the serum, and his team is currently developing a marketing strategy to increase product visibility. He also hopes to launch other beauty items such as facial cream and toner in the future.
“I believe that in the end it all comes down to product quality,” he says. “We are not in a rush. We intend to grow steadily.”
For more information about Mana Orchid, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/manaorchid1 , https://www.manaorchid.com/
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Words by: Natanit Tanmanasiri
Photo courtesy of Proud Orchid (Thailand) Company Limited