1. Success Story

How this Fruit is changing the Fate of Farmers

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

This sun-loving plant flowers during the night. Even though it is a self-pollinating plant, it is better to do assisted pollination to ensure 100 percent  fruit setting.  Fruit, now cultivated as a monocrop, is not free from pests or diseases, but the occurrence is said to be less. While there are attempts to grow vegetables as intercrops to ensure sustainability. The harvest season is between May and September.

Unlike other fruit crops, dragon fruit starts yielding early. While the first harvest can be done after 15 months, optimal production happens only after three. The average yield per acre is around five tonnes. Almost all the growers are marketing the produce directly, mainly to supermarket chains, and are getting a price of around Rs 80 to Rs 100 per kg. 

Though now the entire harvest gets consumed in nearby cities, the growers are not yet sure about the market once the production reaches its full potential. Since the home-grown dragon fruits are said to be more sweet and tasty than imported ones, they feel that there would not be a need to import fruits once the required quantity is grown locally.

Though growers and scientists agree that it is a beneficial crop, they are wary of future market prospects. “This is one of the most beautiful fruits in the world but people may not consider it tasty. Right now it is preferred only by a certain segment of people – those who are health conscious and like low-sugar fruits. There is no clear information about the market requirement. So, until the market gets stabilized it is better to avoid large-scale production. The production should be demand-driven and sustainability should be the main concern. There is a good potential for this fruit, which is attractive and highly nutritive, and efforts should be made to tap it. Also, proper research in terms of cultivation practices and value addition would go a long way in establishing the fruit as a crop. Until then, it is better if the enthusiasts grow it in small patches. 

Ram Sakal Yadav, a young farmer in Kaushambhi district, in Uttar Pradesh  was ready  to migrate to Mumbai in search of a job that would ensure him a steady income. It was Two and a half years ago. He informed that their  agricultural income was reducing and the family was increasing. So, there was no option but to migrate and feed the family.

It was Akhand Pratap Singh, the then District Magistrate of Kaushambhi, who persuaded Ram Sakal Yadav to stay back and try out an alternative.

The District Magistrate had got saplings of the dragon fruit from West Bengal and he encouraged Yadav and other farmers to plant it. Initially, not many were willing to experiment but later about 60 framers agreed to plant the sapling.

“Within 18 months, the fruits appeared. No one in the village had seen these types of fruits. The district magistrate made arrangements to send the fruit to Mumbai and Delhi and then the profits started pouring in,” says Yadav.

Sources, however, insist that the first crop of the fruit was consumed by farmers from the district who wanted to savour its taste. With help from horticulture experts, the local farmers not only started planting trees but even started cultivating saplings that could be exported.

“Degan phal’, (as the fruit is known in local parlance) ne hamari kismet badal di”, says Binda Devi, a 62 year old widow, who has a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren to take care of after her son abandoned them and left home four years ago.  Explaining the technique of dragon fruit farming, Binda Devi says that the tree is very fragile and needs to be supported by wooden planks.  “You can use one wooden plank to support four trees that require mild watering. The fruits star appearing by the end of 18 months and each tree can yield up to 60 to 120 fruits. The officers have helped us understand the details of ‘degan phal’ farming,” she says.

A horticulture expert D.K. Trivedi said that the soil of Kaushambhi was conducive for dragon fruit farming.

“The fruit, also known as ‘pitaya’, is being sold in big cities at Rs 250 to 300 per kilogram and the only major cost of cultivation is the wooden planks that are needed to support the tree. One tree yields fruits for several years and animals do not eat it because of the thorns around it”, he said.

The fact that dragon fruit is said to be helpful in the treatment of diseases like diabetes and asthma and has anti-aging and anti-cancer properties, has also made it popular in the region.

The district horticulture officer Mewa Ram, meanwhile, says that there are about 7500 dragon fruit trees now in Kaushambhi and the fruit from here is sold in Mumbai, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.

The farmers have even created a page on Facebook called Dragon Fruit Kaushambhi where they have posted photographs of the dragon fruit and tree.

Dragon fruit originated in Central America and is the fruit of a Cactus, and are found in over six continents. It is a gorgeous fruit that can be found in multiple colors. It is made so beautifully and has a scaly appearance, much like a dragon. It is beautiful to look at and can be found in many colors such as white, red and magenta.

The fruit has been neglected by mainstream fruit traders for centuries, but now it has become one of the top exports of Vietnam. Many juicing and fruit giants are now gaining interest in this fruit. It has a delicious flavor and is very refreshing to eat. It is mainly composed of water.  To best enjoy it, put it in the refrigerator beforehand or enjoy it as a juice. It can also be turned into a sorbet and served with mango. The vibrant color of the fruit is often used as a color agent in pastries, cakes, and other foods. The pulp is also added to alcoholic drinks. It is considered as a tropical fruit and its flower buds can be used in cooking. Packed full of Vitamin C, fiber, and minerals, this fruit provides an abundant supply of antioxidants. The seeds of the dragon fruit also contain multiple essential oils.

Dragon Fruit benefits includes supporting bone health and density, improving digestion, enhancing the skin, supporting good metabolic rate, fighting fungal and microbial, supporting weight loss, preventing cancer cells from thriving, preventing arthritis and healing sunburn. Other benefits includes slowing down aging process, ensuring healthy hair and preventing acne.

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