8 Sep 2014

The Fruit of this Full Moon and Beyond: the Rambutan

By Jorge Ventocilla

A common misconception is that just because China is on the other side of the world, every exotic product (or any product that seems to be from far away) is brought from there. In this case, I am talking about the rambutan, a fruit we like to call Chinese mamón or mamón chino (Nephelium lappaceum), which is not originally from China, but from Malaysia. This fruit is currently grown in many tropical regions around the world.

Rambutan trees are more common now than before in Panama and some years we get high levels of production of this delicious, gorgeous fruit. We can buy this fruit at the wholesale food market (Mercado de Abastos) from July until early November. This fruit, as many other kinds of produce we buy here in Panama City, comes mostly from Chiriquí.

Today this fruit is very popular in Panama, but 20 or 25 years ago the story was very different. It was more expensive then and few people knew what it was. Also, I have been told that the fruit that was sold here back then was actually grown in Costa Rica.

According to technical data, this tree grows easily and quickly (3­-4 feet a year) in different types of soil, provided there is good drainage. Some trees may fruit after 3 or 4 years. In Malaysia, trees may bear fruit twice a year, but here in Panama just once annually. 

Production varies from season to season. Rambutan trees eight years or older may produce up to 400 lb. (approx. 180 kg) of fruit one season and just 60 lb. (approx. 27 kg) the next one.  The fruit is light green when it is not yet ripe and, when it is, we can find it in different shades of yellow and red. It rots easily and needs to be sold rather fast.

Costa Rica has at least 1,000 cultivated hectares (almost 2500 acres), especially south of the country. Their export quotas to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are relatively small. I read some information about their plans to export this product to markets up north. According to the information, rambutan could have a market price of approximately US$8 per kg in the United States and Europe.

We do not have stocks in the fruit crops market, but it is good to know that we can afford this one now thanks to years of abundance. May it stay that way, and away from the impact inflation has had on so many products.

My recommendation to anyone interested in growing rambutan would be to start doing it now. It is a simple process and, who knows, you may have your own crops ready for harvest by year 2018!