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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 Mahaweli regions.

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 blocs.

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 out.

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.

Medicinal value

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 such impaired.

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 habits.

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.

 

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Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

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