SOURCE: Bilkis Irani, Dhaka Tribune
In Bangladesh, cultivation of the fruit began in fiscal 2014-15 on five hectares of land and is a profitable crop today for the 25,000 growers.
Much has been said about Vietnam closing in on Bangladesh’s long-undisputed number two spot in the global apparel market.
But there is another product in which Vietnam is the leading exporter and Bangladesh has a good shot at knocking it about with the Southeast Asian nation: dragon fruit.
The fetching-looking hot pink fruit with a crown of curly vibrant greenish petal and white — or sometimes, purple — flesh speckled with tiny black seeds requires very little water and flourishes in hot weather, making it a perfect fit for Bangladeshi climactic conditions.
The fruit, which belongs to the cacti family and is native to Central America, was brought to Vietnam by French settlers in the 19th century and its commercial cultivation did not begin until the 1980s.
Today, it has now gone on to bring home one-third of the country’s $3.7 billion fruit and vegetable export receipts.
In the first ten months of 2020, dragon fruit exports fetched upwards of $906.7 million for Vietnam, which is 36.3 per cent of the country’s total receipts from fruit and vegetable exports during the period, according to data from its ministry of industry and trade.
Thanks to its cocktail of health benefits and curious look, the fruit has been hyped up over the last decade. Between 2020 and 2025, the global dragon fruit market is projected to grow at 3.7 per cent per annum, with robust demand from China and the US.
Other than Vietnam, it is commercially produced in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, China, Israel and Central America.
In Bangladesh, cultivation of the fruit began in fiscal 2014-15 on five hectares of land, according to Mehedi Masood, post-project director of the agriculture ministry’s Year-Round Fruit Production for Nutrition Improvement Project.
The fruit is already turning out to be a profitable crop for the 25,000 farmers engaged in its cultivation. So much that it is attracting educated youths to the business.
About 99 per cent of the growers are educated and 80 per cent of them are youths, according to the agriculture ministry.
Take the case of Moniruzzaman Munna, who graduated from North South University with a computer science undergraduate degree in 2018.
He has taken over from his father to tending his 13,000 dragon fruit trees planted on 22 bighas of land in Natore.
The fruit, whose harvesting season is from April to November, fetched the father-son duo Tk 1 crore in turnover this year. Their profit from the 70 tonne-harvest was Tk 20 lakh.
“I earn more than one lakh each month, which would not have been possible if I did a regular job. Besides, I can create employment for others,” said Munna, director of the Natore Dragon Fruits Garden, which employs 18 on a permanent basis and another 30-40 seasonally.
Their success has inspired others to the point that they earn about Tk 1 lakh each month from selling dragon fruit saplings. Each sapling sells from Tk 30-60.
Dragon fruit grows on a climbing cactus. It sprouts roots as it creeps its way up the post and then branches out in a spiky green mane. The flowers bloom a few times a year. It is a spectacular large white flower that lasts a single night before it shrivels up and starts growing into a fruit.
In Vietnam, which has the largest plantation area for dragon fruit, the tree has 100 years of life expectancy. In Bangladesh, it can survive 35-40 years, according to experts.
Each tree bears about 30-60 fruits, according to the agriculture ministry. The plant needs only dung and dies from waterlogging.
Dragon fruit has high water content and is a good source of iron, magnesium, vitamin B, phosphorus, protein, calcium and fibre.
Its tiny black seeds are edible and are high in polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have been proved to lower the risk of cardiovascular disorders.
It is low in sugar and has anti-inflammatory qualities.
As information spreads of its health benefits, its consumption is increasing in Bangladesh.
“Every day its demand is increasing,” said Shahedul Islam, category manager of the supermarket chain Shwapno, which has started selling the locally grown ones from this year.
Most supermarket fruit stalls are selling the locally grown dragon fruit, which retails at Tk 350-600. The imported one cost Tk 500-800.
“The demand for locally grown dragon fruit is huge as its taste is better than the imported ones,” said Naushad Alam, owner of an online fruit shop Royal Fruitz.
The cheaper price is another factor.
Subsequently, he called for a campaign to encourage the youth — like Munna — to engage in the cultivation of dragon fruit.
“If educated young people get involved in dragon fruit farming there will be an agriculture revolution because educated young people will able to think smartly and use the latest farming techniques.”
Production will increase and the price will come down further in the local market, Alam added.
About 300 hectares of land across the country is dedicated to the farming of dragon fruit, according to the agriculture ministry.
This fiscal year, the acreage has been expanded to 500 hectares, which would yield about 5,400 tonnes of the fruit.
“If we consider the health benefits, the demand for the fruit, the market price, easy production technology, long-time income generation and employment creation opportunities, dragon fruit should be incorporated largely to the fruit production system of Bangladesh,” said Mohammad Humayun Kabir, professor at the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University’s department of horticulture.
And the climatic condition of Bangladesh is conducive to dragon fruit cultivation, he added.