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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Student, former telecom executive, widow among dragon fruit farmers

“The input cost is very less for dragon-fruit. Compared to sugarcane (a common crop in South Gujarat), the input cost for dragon-fruit is four times less,” Patel said that his plantations will survive for next 25-30 years.

Written by Avinash Nair | Ahmedabad |
September 3, 2021 9:38:45 am
Vistors at the dragon fruit festival in Ahmedabad on Thursday. Nirmal Harindran

A former telecom executive, an agri-business management student and a widow from Kutch are among the new-age farmers who have taken to dragon fruit farming in Gujarat, that renamed the fruit —famous for its nutraceutical properties— as “Kamalam”, last year.

“I have learnt dragon fruit farming simply by using Google. I also visited a few farms nearby before staring up my own cultivation,” said Mehul Patel, a farmer from Navsari district who quit his job after working for 10 years in a telecom company. Patel is one of the 30 dragon-fruit farmers who are participating in a five-day-long festival organised by the state government-run Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation (GAIC) in Ahmedabad to promote cultivation and consumption of the exotic fruit.

“My family had a mango and chickoo orchards. We have converted one acre of the chickoo orchard to grow this fruit. Last year, we sold the produce at our farm. This is our second year, and our annual production has risen to 10 tonnes and so we are selling it in Surat market,” he added. Mehul earned Rs 180 for every kilogram of dragon-fruit he sells in wholesale market in Surat.

“The input cost is very less for dragon-fruit. Compared to sugarcane (a common crop in South Gujarat), the input cost for dragon-fruit is four times less,” Patel said that his plantations will survive for next 25-30 years.

Nikunj Pansuriya (24) is currently studying MBA in agri-business management from a private university in Vadodara, but is also helping his family grow dragon fruits in Jamnagar. “Last year we produced 52-60 tonnes of dragon fruit. My endeavour is to help dragon-fruit farmers access new markets. We not only sell the fruit, but we have converted it into fruit pulp and juice that can also be used in smoothies or cakes. We have also dehydrated dragon fruit wafers which can be supplied in the market during January-June months when dragon fruit is not available in the market. We have also made candies and jam from dragon-fruit,” said Nikunj.

Gujarat government officials said there are about 350 dragon-fruit farmers harvest 4000 metric tonnes of fruit between the months of June-October every year. Gujarat with 1200 hectares of plantations, accounts for 30-35 percent of the dragon fruit grown in the country.

Farmers in Nakhatrana taluka or Kutch district like Premji Gohil have given up traditional crops like cotton and groundnut and shifted to dragon-fruit cultivation since the last three years.

“The earnings from Dragon-fruit is 50 per cent more than those from traditional crops like cotton that I used to grow earlier. It is not labour intensive. The only challenge is the availability of markets where we can sell this fruit. People in the village do not consume this fruit. It is only in big cities like Surat and Mumbai, I find customers,” said Gohil who grows 10000 plants in four acres.

In nearby Mangra village of Mundra taluka of Kutch, Gitaben Jethwa (47), shifted to dragon-fruit farming after her husband passed away three years ago. “Without my husband, I needed more money to sustain my two daughters and a son. We used to grow marigold flowers earlier. Now, we have shifted to Kamalam fruit farming. We currently grow 4000 plants in three acres in our village,” said Gitaben who continues to grow marigold during the winter months when the harvesting of dragon fruit finishes.

“Between the two poles on which the dragon-fruit plant grows, there is enough space. It is there, we plant marigold now,” she said.

In order to encourage more farmers to take up dragon-fruit farming, Gujarat government will be organising this exhibition every year. “In coming days, we will be organising a similar exhibition for farmers from the state at Gujarat Bhavan in New Delhi,” said RC Faldu, state agriculture minister after inaugurating the exhibition on Thursday.


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