Milly’s Dragon Fruit Garden sets pace in World’s most expensive fruit
By Joseph Macharia
Milly’s Dragon Fruit Garden an orchard of its kind is pioneering farming of dragon fruit in Kenya with a view to help farmers. The farm located in Riverside estate in Thika has specialized in propagation of dragon fruit seedlings (cuttings) to meet the rising demand of the seedlings by new farmers. The farm has also planted hundred of vines that have been producing dragon fruits which they have been selling to local supermarkets and the neighbourhood.
Dragon fruit is hailed to be the world’s most expensive fruit owing to its enormous health benefits. One kilogram is sold around Ksh 600 – 700. It is a tropical fruit that is bright red on outside with green spiky leaves flaring up around it like flames assuming the image of a dragon. On the inside it has a reddish pulp with tiny black seeds. The inside flesh may be eaten without its skin, taken with yoghurt or blended into juice. Indigenous in Southern Mexico and Central America, the plant used to grow on a climbing cactus since it could support itself. It was the French who spread the fruit to other parts of the world in the 19th century.
According to Milly Gichinga, the proprietor of the orchard, the idea to start farming dragon fruits was birthed 5 years ago when a relative of theirs from Malaysia visited and gifted them with two dragon fruits and several cuttings. “We started growing dragon fruit like a joke. Our sister brought us some seedlings about twenty and two fruits. She talked about it and told us it is called dragon fruit. She had just come from Malaysia. When we ate the fruits, we got interested because it was very sweet,” Mrs Gichinga explains.
They have since propagated seedlings from the original twenty cuttings and sold them to farmers in Ukambani and Lamu regions. With passage of time, they have come to specialize in propagation of this amazing fruit in order to help farmers who may be interested in cultivating it.
Ideal long-term investment
Despite commanding high prices, dragon fruit requires minimum input to cultivate making it an ideal long-term investment especially in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). Allan Karega, a dragon fruit expert who has been advising Milly’s Dragon Fruit Garden terms dragon fruit as low on investment and high on returns. “If you are looking for a business to venture and you reside in dry areas, dragon fruit farming is the business to do,” Mr Karega hints.
According to the State Department for the ASALs and Regional Development – Kenya, arid and semi-arid lands constitute over 80% of the country’s landmass providing a home to about 36% of the population. If dragon fruit farming can be taken seriously, many people in the marginalized areas can benefit immensely. “Most of the vast lands lying idle can be put into good use while alleviating poverty as well as improve our country’s food security,” Mr Karega notes.
Being a desert plant, dragon fruit does not need any irrigation. The plant thrives in hot areas because it is drought-resistant and can grow on very little moisture. Notably, the plant takes shorter time to mature in hotter areas as compared to cool and wet regions. “For moderate weather, it will take 18 months to mature, the more you are headed towards hotter areas, it can take as less as 14 months to mature,” Mr Karega notes.
The only major investment you will make is during planting. You will need a structure to support the vine and several buckets of manure. Afterwards, you’ll enjoy fruits for a period of 30 – 50 years since dragon fruit is a perennial crop. What’s more the vine requires less maintenance.
Living at a time when the costs of farm inputs are skyrocketing at an alarming rate, a farmer who opts to cultivate dragon fruit won’t have to bear such burden. Dragon plant does not require fertilizers and foliar. With its peculiar fibrous roots, dragon fruit utilizes nutrients in the soil to grow. You might require some organic manure when planting and that’s all it needs for a lifetime!
As we grapple with the issue of Climate Change and pollution due to increasing usage of agro-chemicals like herbicides and pesticides, dragon fruits do not require such chemicals. With dragon fruit, visits to the agro-vet will come to a screeching halt. The plant is eco-friendly thus conserves our environment. Besides, the fruit is purely organic and helps to combat cancer in our bodies.
Countless health benefits
Dragon fruit has a high nutritional value because it is low in calories and rich in antioxidants as well as fiber. It is considered a high nutrient-dense fruit. Mr Karega says that the health benefits of the fruit are numerous. “The fruit is so beneficial in terms of nutrition; we refer to it as a medicinal fruit. It is good for people who are having issues with joint pains. The fruit helps to cure those pains,” he explains.
Additionally dragon fruit helps to boost the body’s immunity. “Dragon fruit is very crucial in boosting our bodies’ immunity and also prevents constipation. People with issues of constipation are encouraged to consume this fruit. It also prevents hypertension and cardiovascular diseases,” he continues. Clinical studies show that dragon fruit may improve insulin resistance, liver fat and heart health. Sugar levels in dragon fruit are low making it consumable even by people with diabetes.
“Having a high concentration of antioxidants, dragon fruit also helps to quell down radical cells that activate cancer,” Karega further explains. The fruit contains antioxidant compounds that shield one’s cells from unstable molecules which are linked to chronic diseases and aging. “To ladies who want to be beautiful and age gracefully, eat dragon fruit,” Mrs Gichinga advises noting that its pulp can be applied to soften the skin.
Pregnant mothers can also benefit a great deal from eating this fruit. “Pregnant mothers usually take pregnacare so they can add Omega 3 and 9 in their bodies. Dragon fruit is rich in Omega 3 and Omega 9, so it’s highly advisable to pregnant mothers,” Mr Karega explains. The fruit has a descent concentration of iron and magnesium which is vital for pregnant mothers.
“Before you can think to plant dragon fruit, you require a supportive structure to support your crop. You can either do a 7-feet concrete or a treated post. Dragon fruit grows in form of a vine because it is a climbing plant, therefore it requires support,” Mr Karega explains emphasizing that farmers should use only treated posts since ordinary timber may decay or attacked by termites resulting to the collapsing of the plant.
Since dragon fruit is a perennial crop, adequate preparations need to be put into place. A 3 by 3 feet square hole with a depth of 2 feet for each pole or trellis will be required. The spacing between the poles should be 2.5 metres apart. Take 2 – 3 buckets of well rotten organic manure and mix with top soil. Then you will take your trellis and place at the centre of the hole. Since the depth of the hole is 2 feet, 5 feet (or 1.5 metres) of the pole will be above the ground; the perfect height for a dragon fruit. In addition, at five feet, the pole can bear the weight of four dragon vines. The space underneath the poles can be utilized by planting crops like sweet potatoes that don’t exceed 3 feet height.
With your pole at the centre, pour in the mixture firmly making sure the pole is upright. Then create a ring at the top where the fruit will fall to form a canopy. The radius of the ring should be 2 feet. “You can use a metallic ring or you can have a crossing words like a cross and place used motorbike tyres which are very good. Ensure that the vines are passing inside the tyres or the rings so that they start to fall like a canopy on the sides,” Mr Karega elaborates.
An eighth of an acre can accommodate 50 trellis, well spaced. With each pole supporting 4 dragon plants, it totals to 200 dragon stems. A single mature dragon fruit can yield 25 – 30 fruits a year in three harvests between February and July with one fruit retailing at Ksh 300. A kilogram can comprise 3 – 5 fruits depending on sizes.
Milly’s Dragon Fruit Garden’s mission is to educate and help more farmers cultivate dragon fruit. “We are looking out to reach more farmers because we still believe little has been done to educate farmers in arid areas about profitable crops like dragon fruit,” Mr Karega ends. Milly’s Fruit Garden can be reached via 0722 850 333 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.