August is annual harvest time for Lam Yai in Northern Thailand. The popular, succulent, aromatic fruit is the produce of forests of sprawling trees in the provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The month is also the middle of the monsoon but there are enough breaks in between the increasing downpours for the farmers to bring the ripe fruit down.
But there are many long faces this year as the price per kilo the wholesalers are prepared to pay the farmers is down from an average 19 baht ( 2013) to 14 baht (as I write) this harvest. It was as low as 12 baht. The farmers have no option but to accept the price offered or let the fruit rot on the trees. Leaving it on the trees for longer in the hope the price goes down is a real gamble many are taking. Casual labour remains at 300 baht a day so it’s difficult to see how anyone will make much of a profit, if at all. The fruit from one tree that would normally yield 600 baht will this year only fetch 450 baht. So that 150 baht lost is equivalent to half a day’s work.
Many of the bigger Lam Yai farms are on the hillsides where land is cheaper, rocky, there is less water and it is generally difficult and not cost effective to grow rice or vegetables. These farmers will suffer the most as the once a year Lam Yai crop is their main, if not only, source of income. A farmer with 500+ trees could be looking at a gross loss of 75,000 baht with no saving on labour or maintenance costs. Others with farms in the valley may be considered luckier as rain is plentiful enough for their two rice crops and vegetables in between. They will lose out on their Lam Yai but, fortunately, are not totally reliant on the fruit.
Lam Yai trees typically take 3 years from planting to reach maturity and yield their first fruit. It is a long investment time involving a lot of hard work feeding, watering and maintaining the trees in good health before any returns are seen.
In each village a small collection station is set up where once a day the farmers bring the fruit to be graded and sold. From there the produce is trucked to a central distribution depot where it is packaged and transported to markets all over Thailand.
Unfortunately farmers in Thailand cannot kick the habit of burning anything they don’t want despite repeated government warnings and penalties which are seldom enforced. So, just as it is in the dry season, fires pollute the air of North Thailand during August; this time with the smoke from burning Lam Yai stalks and leaves.