Sri Lanka's export of dragon fruit a success....:
A million farmers come out of poverty
A dragon fruit plantation in Bulathsinhala.
Dragon fruit pulp.
Today, the dragon fruit is possibly the most remarkable among fruits
sold in international markets and in California it is known to fetch
$8-10 per kilo. A plant of the dragon fruit was smuggled into Sri Lanka
by Manjo Kariyawasam in 1998, from Taiwan, where it is grown with great
care. When found out, the authorities wanted to burn down Karuyawasam's
experimental plantation in Gampaha.
Bearing Kariyawasam's success of exporting the fruit to Germany, and
the Maldives, and supplying it to some of the five star hotels and
supermarkets in Colombo, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation,
Mahaweli Development and Environment plans to introduce the fruit to the
The Ministry secretary, T. M. Abeyawickrama said that it would be a
good means of enhancing the earnings of the Mahaweli farmers. Perhaps,
it would mean more, considering that in China, for instance, each month,
a million farmers are known to come out of poverty, by taking to the
cultivation of high-value fruits like the dragon fruit, kiwi, star fruit
among other fruits and vegetables which command enhanced prizes.
In China, up-market fruit and vegetable cultivation is linked to
continuous research, while export marketing is in the hands of young
graduates who pass out of Chinese universities. The promise of the
dragon fruit to Sri Lanka is all the more, for this fruit is now being
served in the most prestigious hotels in the world, and by the best
known airlines including Singapore Airlines flights to Colombo.
Book on dragon fruit
Last week, we met Minister of Agricultural Development, Chamal
Rajapakse at Kariyawasam's dragon fruit plantation in Bulathsinhala, in
the Kalutara district, where the plantation has been shifted to. The
minister has written the foreword for a book on dragon fruit and its
potential in Sri Lanka.
The book is written by H. P. M. Gunasena and D. K. N. G. Pushpakumara
of the University of Peradeniya, who have carried out much research on
the dragon fruit, while, much more research is needed for its extensive
cultivation they said.
Perhaps, Kariyawasam (39) is sitting on a goldmine. For, he has
gained the basics of dragon fruit cultivation; the demand for the fruit
is growing day by day. Besides, in the next 20 years, the European Union
is expected to ban the entry of all fruits other than those where
organic manure has been used. This trend may be taken up by other trade
Kariyawasam, says that after he is more settled with cultivating 2.5
acres of dragon fruit in Bulathsinhala, he will turn to producing and
selling out dragon plants from nurseries, to anyone who wishes to start
a plantation. Assisting Kariyawasam are young women who have passed out
from the Kundasale Agricultural School.
While the dragon is a fragment of mythology, the dragon fruit has a
far more romantic tale to tell. The dragon fruit belongs to the Cacti or
Cactaceae family and originated millions of years ago in arid Mexico and
its adjoining, south of the North American continent.
Through thousands of years, birds dispersed the seeds into the South
American continent's Amazon region. Here, the plant evolved, into being
a water-loving species of Cacti. Being epiphytic, or climbing, while
holding on to vines, branches and rocks, the tree grew into the most
beautiful of the Caetaceae family.
Besides, the flowers are noctral, off-whites, and sweet-scented to
attract insects, and bats of the night and an abundance of nectar to
reward the visitor. When night pollination fails, the flower remains
open for the bee of the morning.
When man arrived much later, in South America, he was captivated by
the flavour of the fruit (the pulp is similar to the Kiwi fruit). And,
when man settled into farming, the dragon fruit became a native of
Nicaragua, Colombia and Guatemala, according to Sri Lankans who are
studying dragon fruit cultivation.
Dragon fruit: A beauty
In recent years, the fruit is cultivated extensively in South
America. Being a tropical and subtropical adopted plant, it has moved to
orchards in the United States, and outside the Americas, into Israel. In
the East, the dragon fruit has captured the imagination of Australia,
China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the fruit fetches a higher price than the king of fruits
in South East Asia, the durian, they said.
Little, wonder, for the dragon fruit is a beauty in itself, often as
large as a coconut, bears bright red skin, green scales, and white
flesh, making up 70 to 80 per-cent pulp, when the skin is easily peeled
The pulp comes in white, pink, dark red or crimson, yellow and other
crosses of shades - all with a density of speckled seeds, black in
colour to complete the artistry while being very nutritious. Not to be
outdone, Mother Nature has endowed the seeds into being easily
digestable. Dragon fruit also carries with it medicinal properties, for
Mother Nature has even deemed that the farmer is abundantly compensated.
Unlike banana, papaya and pineapple, dragon is non-climatic, meaning
that post-harvest, it does not ripen and may remain fit for consumption
for 40-50 days. However, continuous spells of refrigeration and
non-refrigeration, is known to spoil the fruit.
The pulp is scooped or sliced and used in fruit salads, chilled as
juice, sherbet, jams and blended with yoghurt. It is served with ice
cream, and the cooks, imagination can run on. In Australia, it is
scooped, mixed with pureed strawberries and castor sugar. Recipes for
making wine with its pulp, are displayed in prestigious periodicals. The
red pulp makes sweeter wine, they say.
In Sri Lanka, the pulp of red and white fruits are mixed and served
as a substitute for faluda.
It is now known that the Red Indians had secretly guarded their
knowledge of the medicinal value of the dragon tree. Dr. Thilak
Ranasinghe, director of Agriculture for the western province believes
claims were made outside Sri Lanka that its pulp is antioxidant,
prevents colon cancer and diabetes and even helps produce insulin among
Dragon fruit, neutralises toxic substances as heavy metals, reduces
colostral and high blood pressure, controls high sugar levels, prevents
cancer and bleeding and promotes health. Eaten regularly, it controls
Asthma and cough.
Once, being a desert plant, and starved for companionship, the
flowers are hermaphrodite. But, man has intervened, scientifically,
while there are a few species of dragon fruit with differing pollinating
Vegetatively propagated (cuttings) take one to two years to come into
bear and three to four years for seedlings. In the Amazon, dragon fruit
has been observed to reach 40 metres high but, grown in Bulathsinhala,
it cannot reach high and is allowed to droop over a large used tyre.
The tree can go on bearing for 20 years; it bears fruits of 350 to
850 grammes and after five years produce 50 fruits per year.