Dragon fruit begins to take root in Pakistan: WealthPK

ISLAMABAD: Farming of dragon fruit (DF), a nonconventional but nutritious fruit, is important for the growth of Pakistan’s agriculture sector. DF is in high demand globally and farming and export of its value-added products can fetch piles of foreign exchange for the country.
Talking to WealthPK about the importance of dragon fruit, Dr. Aasif Javaid, a keen farmer from Rahim Yar Khan and also CEO and owner of No.1 Organics, said, “Provision of nutritious and quality natural food is my passion. Being low in calories but high in phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber, minerals, vitamins, probiotics, and healthy fatty acids, dragon fruit is considered one of the superfoods. It is cultivated globally but in Pakistan, it is not popularized. Not more than five years ago, it was my dream to introduce this fruit in the country and popularize it at such a scale that it would be easily affordable for a common person. So, No.1 Organics imported its varieties from the USA and after successful propagation, established commercial-scale nurseries.’’
Traditionally, DF is planted in two ways, i.e. pillar system and trellis or the high-density system. In the pillar system, a 7-foot pillar is erected about three feet deep and four plants are grown on each side. Under this system, about 500 pillars are erected on a hectare of land and 2,000 plants are grown around them. Wires or runners are tightened between the pillars in the trellis or high-density system used to plant between pillars. The plants are planted a foot away and the tightly erected wires bear their weight.
Around 5,000 to 7,000 plants per hectare can be planted. In both systems, the standard distance between the pillars is at least seven feet and the distance of pillar columns is usually kept at 12-13 feet away. Due to fragile stalks, plants are not allowed to get a height of more than 4 feet. So, plants are tied with pillars and wires to avoid breaking. The excessive length then let to fall. In this state, it bears more fruit rather than vertical growth.
Furthermore, he said the life span of DF is about 25 years. Propagation is done in Feb-March through cuttings (sizing 5–12 inches) and the plant starts rooting after 1 ½ to 2 months. The root is no longer than 1 ½ feet. So, it can be planted in large flower pots. Fruiting starts after 15 months of plantation and then it bears only 2-3 fruits. In the next year when it gets a little more maturity, the number of fruits reaches 10-12. On reaching full maturity within 3-4 years, each plant bears at least 10kgs of fruit.
Fruiting continues from May to early December. The plants are dormant from December to February. As many as 250 known varieties of DF are self-pollinated and are used for commercial farming. The weight of the fruits reaches 300-900 gms. A mature DF orchard can produce at least 12-15 tons or more per annum. This year, its price reached 3,000-4,500 per kg according to the variety. The price can be controlled by increased plantation.
To popularize DF, No.1 Organics has distributed about 4,000 plants across Pakistan. Each of its plants is worth PKR1,000 to PKR1,500. Although it is tropical, it is tolerant to different climatic conditions except for extreme ones.
DF is naturally resistant to diseases. Sometimes, it is attacked by Nematodes but it is controllable. The plantation must be done on raised beds to prevent the stalk from water soaking which causes fungus. To avoid sunburn or wilting due to frost, DF plants must be covered. It is important to make farmers aware of its economic importance and value-added products, including jam, dried slicing, jelly, ice cream, and food color extraction, added Dr. Aasif.
Provincial Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, Sindh, Abdul Bari Pitafi told WealthPK that he has cultivated 1,000 plants (trellis system) on his own farmland in Ashraf Abad in Ghotki Tehsil.
‘’I am interested in establishing a nursery to popularize its farming, installing a processing plant to produce value-added products and exporting it in both processed and fresh forms. I also appreciate the coordination of Dr. Aasif for providing professional services, plants, technical advice, and materials to establish my farm,” said Pitafi.
Talking to WealthPK, Dr. Sabina Alim, a passionate female farmer, public health specialist and expert in restorative dentistry, said, “Seeking natural superfoods and medicines to benefit is my hobby. My quest led me to the highly nutritious DF and thanks to Dr. Aasif’s expertise, I successfully planted an orchard in Bhara Kahu, Islamabad. It consists of 2,722.51 sq. feet having 25 pillars with four plants each. It is very important to increase production to reduce prices. DF itself and its value-added products especially are of great nutritional and economic value.”
Another fervent farmer from Naseer Pur Khurd near Takht Hazara in Sargodha district, Faiz Rasool Ranjha shared with WealthPK that he had started DF farming in 2003.
He brought 100 of its cuttings from Bangladesh. By that time, he was not familiar with any experts in Pakistan, but continuous efforts enabled him to cultivate the fruit. Now, he has 1500 DF plants under the trellis system. He now aims to extend it to an area of around four hectares.
Ranjha said he lived in Aachen, Germany but he regularly visited Pakistan to monitor his farms. In his absence, caretakers look after the farm. DF in the German market is worth €8 per kg. The fruit’s refrigeration life is even more than a month.
Ranjha said his German fellows like the produce of his farm. He now aims to extend the DF farming area up to 4 hectares. He is also interested in branding his farm and launch a value-additional unit for further direct and value-added export. He will extend his DF-based projects with the coordination and proficiency of Dr. Aasif. He also appreciated Dr. Aasif’s passion and expertise to popularize this fruit in the country.

The international market of DF is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.9% by the year 2027.