Residents of Lang Son Province in northern Vietnam go trekking long distances up rocky mountains to harvest tons of custard apples.
The harvest season for custard apples has been on for a month in Chi Lang District, which means residents have been going up and down the mountains to pluck and collect the fruit. Some households who own thousands of custard apple trees have to hire extra hands to help them collect the fruits.
Standing on a rock, 46-year-old Nong Can Hanh looks for ripened fruits to pluck. Hanh is one of many people who work as a custard apple picker for hire in the border province. He has been doing this for six years.
“Over the last 24 days, we have traveled about 12 km to pick and take back the custard apples to the owner. Since the custard apple trees here were planted on the mountains, we have to know how to climb them.
“It gets most challenging on rainy days because the roads are slippery and the trees are wet. We can fall down the mountains if we are not careful,” Hanh said.
Carrying a basket, 62-year-old Hoang Van Chuc walks around the garden to pick the fruits and monitor the hired workers. Chuc owns about 2,000 custard apple trees planted on three different mountain ranges. This season, he has hired seven people to collect the fruits from morning to afternoon.
“I pay VND300,000 ($13) per day for each worker and cover their meal expenses throughout the harvest season,” Chuc said.
He said plucking the custard apples needs patience and care. “You have to pick the ripened ones, and if you want to keep them in shape, you have to handle them with care.”
The harvesting work gets done from 5-10 a.m. and 1-4 p.m.
On the mountain, pickers like Chuc and Hanh have to carry gadgets to keep mosquitoes away.
When the baskets are full of the fruits, the workers carry them to the owner’s house. On average, a person can collect and carry 250 kg of custard apples every day.
“This has been my job for five years but it is just a seasonal job. I get around VND10 million ($432) each harvest season,” said Nong Van Tau, a hired hand.
Two workers carry the custard apples down the mountain to the owner’s house.
From higher up in the mountains, a pulley system is used to deliver the fruits in time for traders to collect them.
A worker manages the pulley to deliver harvested custard apples down the mountain.
The baskets of fresh custard apples are taken to the owners’ places after the pulley system delivers them to the bottom of the mountain.
The custard apples from these mountains have aromatic pulp with a strong sweet taste, locals say.
Both owners and workers sort the harvested fruits according to certain quality and size criteria that fetch different prices.
The baskets of custard apples are marked and labeled with their weight before being transferred to merchants.
Most of the custard apples harvested in this district are sold locally. Last year, 25 percent was exported to China. This year, many people sold the fruit online, locals said.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Chi Lang District said that the custard apple planting area that met national cultivation standards was nearly 400 hectares, double that of last year.
“This year, the district expects to harvest 6,000 tons of the fruit, and the price is stable, from VND40,000 to VND90,000 ($4) per kilo,“ said Luong Thanh Chung, head of the district’s agriculture division.