Dragon fruit is a recently introduced horticultural fruit crop in Indian market. Dragon fruit comes in the limelight because of its attractive fruit colour and mouthwatering pulp with edible black seed imbedded inside the pulp. The scientific name of Dragon fruit is Hylocereus undatus and it belongs to family Cactaceae. It is a fast growing perennial semi-epiphytic vine. It was initially introduced as an ornamental plant but latter due to its nutritive qualities, health benefits and market value, it has emerged as a new super fruit. It is a long day plant with beautiful night blooming flower which has been nicknamed as “Noble Woman” or “Queen of the Night”. The other names of dragon fruit are Kamalam, Strawberry Pear, Dragon fruit, Pithaya, Night blooming Cereus, Belle of the night, Conderella plant and Jesus in the Cradle. Because of the bracts or scales on its skin, this fruit is named as pitaya.
The fruit is indigenous to Mexico and is now majorly grown in Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Israel, Nicaragua, Australia, US, Mexico parts of the world and contributing a significant part in their GDP.
Hylocereus costaricensis, red fleshed pitaya and H. undatus, a white fleshed pitaya is two major species growing under Indian agro-climatic conditions. All the Indian states are suitable for dragon fruit plants except cold areas. Currently, Mizoram tops among the Indian States in the cultivation of Dragon fruit. In India, it is now cultivated in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and some other states.
It has been mainly seen that previously farmers followed wheat-paddy cycle and analysis of effects of post-green revolution has shown critical issues such as depleting water table, deteriorating soil health and environment conditions. To address the ongoing challenges of the farming system, cultivation of dragon fruit can be considered as viable option for crop diversification and bring many advantages to farmers. This fruit can be cultivated in degraded and rainfed land. The cost of cultivation is initially high but the plant doesn’t need productive land; it gives maximum production from non-productive, less fertile area.
Market demand of this fruit is quite high and farmers can fetch good returns as once planted it may give fruits up to 20 years. Now-a-days in market, dragon fruit is being sold at a price of ₹400 per kg and the effort is to make it available to consumers for ₹100 per kg.
Dragon fruit is also a very good source of Beta carotene, Lycopene, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C along with high content of nutrients like Iron, Calcium, Potassium, Zinc and Phosphorus. It also contains fatty acids, i.e., 48 per cent Linoleic acid and 1.5 per cent Linolenic acid in its black seeds.’ Additionally, it is low in calories.
Due to its rich nutrient contents and antioxidant properties entangled to the fruit, it is gaining popularity as a super fruit. The burgeoning population and the health conscious people are showing interest over this fruit due to its immense medicinal importance. It helps in the prevention of various cardiovascular diseases. The fruit is considered good for diabetic patients as it helps in controlling blood sugar level. It plays a vital role in fighting against asthma, cough and wound healing.
The demand for the fruit is high in domestic and global markets because of its nutritional values. Attractive colourful bracts, dark red and white flesh and edible tiny black seeds embedded in it, makes it favourable fruit for salads in cuisines. Agro-based industries can go for value addition and prepare juice, jam, jelly, cider, candy, syrup, and wine from the dragon fruit. Peel of dragon fruit has found to be rich source of pectin and can be used as a colouring agent and raw material for food industries. Processing infrastructure can be a major boost for this fruit and attain the goal of income generation of farmers.
Looking at the high market demand and less production, Dragon fruit can pave the way for crop diversification in Indian farming system. The initial investment is high but it can give fast returns within a year. Comparatively, red and pink varieties of the fruit give better yields. Its cultivation will definitely enhance farmers’ income and uplift their socio-economic status. Like Haryana and Punjab government, other states should also replicate the policy to provide incentives to scale up the cultivation of Dragon fruit. Due to its medicinal value, excellent export potential and highly remunerative in nature, policymakers and extension functionaries should work in convergence in scaling up the fruit and complement crop diversification for sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Smriti Singh
School of Agriculture
SAGE University Bhopal (SUB)