The Department of Agriculture has a plan to expand the cultivation of profitable dragon fruit in the region, says a local official
Bahar Uddin Sheikh, a retired teacher and farmer in Pabna’s Atghoria upazila, has achieved success in cultivating dragon fruit, a foreign crop native to Mexico, Central America and South America, which was later introduced to Asia via Vietnam by the French in the early 1800s.
Bahar, an agri-entrepreneur, has established a reputation for himself as an innovator in his hometown of Hajipara for taking up cultivation of modern and unconventional but promising crops.
Although he has not always been sure about the prospects of certain modern crops, he has always managed to turn a profit by taking the risk anyway, making him a trailblazer, say local farmers.
Dragon fruit is one such crop that was not popular in the locality before Bahar introduced it. Now, seeing his successful venture, many farmers are becoming inspired to follow suit, reports a correspondent from Pabna.
Speaking about his life before becoming an agri-entrepreneur, Bahar Uddin Sheikh said he realized he had to do something about the fact that he was constantly struggling to cover the education cost of his six children on a meagre teacher’s salary.
“Initially, I started cultivating common crops like paddy, jute and wheat. But, after a few years, I decided to focus on fruit cultivation instead.
“After I saw reports on dragon fruit farming on television and in newspapers, I started a dragon fruit orchard on 66 decimals of land in 2017.”
“Although I did not make much in the first year, I earned a substantial profit after expanding my orchard to 112 decimals the next year,” he added.
Since then, Bahar says, he has been earning an average profit of around Tk8-10 lakh from his orchard each year.
Bahar added that his son Nazim Uddin Sheikh, living in Dhaka for work, was the one who visited the fruit research station of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and brought him the first dragon fruit saplings.
There was very little need to apply chemical fertilizers in dragon fruit cultivation, he said, adding that ripe fruit stayed good for 15 days without being kept in cold storage.
Zahurul Islam, an amateur farmer from Mazpara village, said that inspired by Bahar’s dragon fruit orchard he collected 5,000 saplings from him and put in place a dragon fruit orchard of his own on a 5-bigha plot of land.
He added that although the first year of dragon farming could get a bit expensive, there was hardly any cost in the following years.
Atghoria Upazila Agriculture Officer Rokhshana Kamrunnahar said the cultivation of this cactus species fruit had yet to gain widespread popularity across Bangladesh and farmers like Bahar Uddin were doing their part to that end.
She said: “The fruit keeps the eyes healthy, reduces body fat, lowers blood cholesterol, reduces high blood pressure and prevents various other diseases.”
She added that there was a huge demand for this fruit in Dhaka. “The fruit has also started selling in the local market. Farmers are encouraged to cultivate this fruit by training in horticulture and roof gardening. The Department of Agriculture has a plan to expand the cultivation of profitable dragon fruit in the region in the years to years to come.”
A little about dragon fruit
The flesh of dragon fruit can vary from white (with pink or yellow skin) to hot pink or deep red with tiny black seeds. Flavour is associated with the colour of the flesh: whitish dragon fruit often has a mild taste while darker, redder flesh can be sweeter and juicier.
Dragon fruit contains small amounts of several nutrients. It is also a decent source of iron, magnesium and fibre. The fruit can also be considered a superfood, being low in calories but high in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and contains healthy fatty acids and probiotics.