Lameye is a major cash crop here in North Thailand. Quite a few farmers count on it as their
source of funds for the year. It is a hard 12 months if the lameye harvest is poor or the price is low, as it is this year.
McFarland says that lameye is “Nephelium (Euphoria) longana (Supindaceae) a tree of relatively small size, cultivated in southern China, in some parts of India, throughout Malaysia and Thailand.... It grows from seed, and can be grafted on the rambutan. But, like the litchi, it is exacting in the conditions which it requires for fruiting.” The scientific name has led to many Westerners calling the fruit longon, which derives from the word in Malay where the British first became acquainted with it. McFarland goes on to explain that the fruit is dried and used by the Chinese to make a tonic. Lameye is the term I prefer since it is what the fruit is called here; “lameye” is no stranger and the word longon is no more familiar than the word lameye (sometimes spelled lay-yai).
These days, 60 years after McFarland’s dictionary was written, there are more convenient means of transportation, so the fresh fruit can be sold abroad as well, and a number of other products have been developed.
As with a great deal of traditional agriculture, lameye production is labor intensive at least in the planting of the orchards and in the annual harvest. The pictures accompanying this essay show how the fruit grows in clusters, with a leathery skin and white pulp the consistency of a grape inside. It has a relatively large seed that comes loose easily. It is very juicy and mildly aromatic. Harvesters cut and break off small branches to get the fruit, and simultaneously to trim the tree so it does not grow too gangly since the limbs are apt to break if they grow too long. Individual lameyes are pulled off and sacked. The fruit is sold in the village after being sorted by size. There are 4 sizes, AA bringing the best price, A about half as much, B half of A, and grade C being worth little or nothing. Farmers are paid cash on the spot. The trick, as with most fruit, is to wait until it is full size but not so long that it gets past prime. In the end it must be sold when it is ready.
August is the big month for harvesting lameye from orchards that have not been manipulated to produce fruit out of season through the use of phosphates and hormones. This year the government declared that the price of AA lameyes should not be less than 28 baht a kilogram, but the price was not subsidized to keep it that high. In fact, the government was buying at 17 baht a kilo from the markets to which the farmers were selling. For a few days the farmers refused to sell and most local buyers were not in operation. But it became clear that it would be necessary to sell at the markets’ price or not at all, so business picked up. The price has been 13 or 14 baht a kilo this week, which is half the peak price last year.
It’ll be a lean year for many orchard growers.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.