Dragon Fruit, New Cash Crop
Watawala Plantations has become the first regional plantation company to initiate commercial dragon fruit cultivation in Sri Lanka, said the Planters’ Association of Ceylon in a press release.
The dragon fruit venture is located at Homadola estate, Galle. The estate has adopted multi-cropping as an alternative to traditional plantation cultivation style and dragon fruit is the latest addition to the estate’s crop varieties list.
“We initiated dragon fruit cultivation in 2008 because it is gaining popularity in Sri Lanka and South Asian countries. We are the first plantation to start dragon fruit cultivation on a commercial scale,” said Homadula estate Senior Manager Gamini Ratnayake.
By now the estate has four acres of dragon fruit cultivation. This is in addition to its list of crops that include the traditional tea, rubber and coconut cultivation and other crops like oil palm, pineapple, cinnamon, banana, citrus, macadamia and vanilla. The estate says this multi-cropping system has a number of benefits, including diversification of risk and providing estate communities’ consistent employment. The multi-cropping system allows for year round employment and higher wages opportunities.
The dragon fruit, a pinkish oval shaped fruit with a faceted exterior and a white creamy pulp, is a cactus species’ fruit. The plant is native to Mexico and Central and South American countries, but is also cultivated in Asian countries. The fruit is also commonly known by the names Pitaya and strawberry pear. A somewhat unusual feature of the plant is that it blooms only at night, producing a large, white, fragrant flower, called the moonflower or queen of the night.
The dragon fruit takes two-and-a-half years to harvest from the time of planting. The initial cost per plant is about Rs 2,000. This cost is seen as easily recoverable.
“It is possible to cover costs and break even in about five years. The life time of the plant is about 25 years. So there is a lot of scope for cost recovery,” said Ratnayake.
Homadula estate just harvested its second dragon fruit crop and says it already has a good market. Currently the dragon fruit supply to the local market is limited, and commands a high price of around Rs. 400 per kilo.
“There is a demand for the fruit from hotels in the south and we also supply to the Colpetty market. With tourism growth we expect demand to increase,” said Ratnayake.
Homadola estate says it hopes to further develop the dragon fruit project over the coming years to increase estate profitability.