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Farmers urged to invest in dragon fruit cultivation

Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that has become increasingly popular in recent years.  In Kenya, it is a relatively new crop and being in the family of cactus, it grows in most arid and semi-arid conditions.

Dr. Monicah Waiganjo, a researcher and horticulture crop specialist has been promoting the growing of the dragon fruit to farmers who are not aware of it.

“I call it a super fruit. Before I began promoting it, what it took was just having a taste of it and I became interested to know more about it by carrying out research and gathering information on it “, she says.

Dr. Waiganjo, who used to work for KALRO but is now retired told KNA during a recent farmers field day held at Kabete Research institute that she visited farmers from Yatta , Meru , Makuyu and Naivasha where the fruit is found to learn more on it  so that she can introduce it to farmers ,

When ripe, dragon fruit has a mildly sweet flavor, has a lot of health benefits but according to a study I carried out, it is a desired fruit yet the country is importing it from South Africa, Vietnam and Israel”, she explained.

The prices, she noted is therefore expensive and currently the dragon fruit is the most expensive fruit in the country with the price going for between Ksh800 and Ksh2,000 a kilogramme depending on where one is purchase from all because of the import.

Having more farmers growing the dragon fruit, Dr. Waiganjo said may help reduce the price and the country can also venture into export market if grown in volumes.

She explained that the fruit originated from South America in Mexico Costa Rica and research shows that it can help bring down chronic diseases like hypertension as it also contains high levels of Vitamin C that boosts immunity and helps one stay healthy.

Dr. Waiganjo said the dragon fruit is also drought tolerant and it is not soil specific considering that our soils are mostly acidic and the fruit can tolerate an acidity of between 5 to 6.5 pH. “This fruit can therefore be grown in any part of the country.

She further explained that one can be able to plant the cuttings in a bucket if one lives in a small residential area saying that from one acre of land a farmer can make almost Ksh2 million in a year, having harvested twice.

“Dragon fruit farming has great potential in the country since it adapts well to the local climate with high temperatures and it consumes little water. Local and global market trends show an ever-increasing demand for new, healthy exotic fruits,” said Waiganjo.

She said globally, the fruit is appreciated as a super fruit for its health benefits, high nutritional value and other nutraceutical benefits.

“Apart from the domestic market, there is a great potential for exports of this new fruit to the traditional market destinations like the European Union as well as new ones like the Gulf and USA,” she said

In the promotion of the fruit, Dr. Waiganjo also said that the fruit can be used for value addition and make a range of industrial products such as juices, jam, sherbets, wines, syrup, flavourings and medicine.

“The flower buds and fruit peels can be used to make soups. One can also make a very fragrant and refreshing cup of tea from the flowers and roots,” she said.

Like many other fruits, the dragon fruit has great medicinal benefits and a lot of people have grown to trust and depend on it, she said noting that Kenya currently imports 99 percent of the dragon fruits from Vietnam and South Africa.

Dr. Waiganjo noted that even as government envisions to ensure increased agricultural productivity and sustainably build resilience of the national agricultural systems dragon fruit farming is profitable and therefore should be encouraged as an ideal climate smart crop for domestic and export market.

“Research organizations and entrepreneurs should engage in dragon fruit value chain research and development to realize its enormous economic potential and health benefits for all”, she said.

Dr.  Waiganjo said there are three types of dragon fruits that include the red colour fruit with white colour flesh, red colour fruit with red flesh and the yellow colour fruit with white flesh.

“The dragon fruits are high in nutrition, are low in calories but packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They also contain the antioxidants vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and beta-lain with studies linking diets high in antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic disease,” she said

Dr. Waiganjo said the fruit is loaded with fiber and it offers seven grams of fiber per serving, making it an excellent choice for meeting your daily fiber needs.  All one needs to consume is 1 cup (200 gms) of this fruit every day and stay healthy.

By Wangari Ndirangu

 

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