DHARMAPURI: A 75-year-old farmer's efforts to cultivate a crop alien to the region have borne fruit, literally.
Gopalakannan, a retired teacher in EK Pudur near Nallampalli, tried his hand at cultivating conventional crops but did not get the desired result. Undeterred, he ventured into dragon fruit cultivation and is the first in the district to reap a successful harvest. Dragon fruit is cultivated in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal on a large scale, and is in high demand in Coimbatore, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
Gopalakannan said he initially was sceptical if the crop would survive the harsh climatic condition of the district. "After months of research, I conducted a pilot study and cultivated a few plants. To my surprise, the plants not only survived but also did not require much water and labour," he told TNIE.
The fruits fetched him a good price -- Rs 40-70 per piece depending on the weight. As it turned out to be a shot in the arm, he planted 200 plants six months ago and started harvesting two months ago. Now, he harvests the fruit every month.
"Post-retirement, I tried cultivating several crops including coconut, papaya, and sapodilla. But they were not successful due to lack of water and high labour cost. Nearly half the revenue generated was spent on water and labour. I started looking at crops or fruits which could sustain the drought-like conditions and need less labour. After months of research, I found that dragon fruits were suitable for our region and brought four cacti from Assam."
"After studying the basics of cultivation, I planted over 200 poles and started cultivating the cacti in a half-acre land. Each cactus produces 7-10 fruits with a weight ranging between 250gm to 750gm. In the market, it sells at Rs 120-150 per kg. However, since it is new in Dharmapuri, we sell it for `40-70 per fruit in retail price depending on the weight of the fruit," he added.
Gopalakannan's son Eashwaran said, "It is quite easy to cultivate dragon fruit. All it requires is vertical support (trellis). It requires little water as it belongs to the cactus family -- consuming only 2-3 litres of water per week. Moreover, since the cacti are resilient to pest and insect attacks, there is no fear of them destroying the yield. If a farmer effectively invests his time in hand pollination, they could reap more fruits."
The health benefits of the fruit had resulted in a soaring demand across the country, Eashwaran said adding that the fruit is rich in Vitamin C, iron, antioxidants and fibre, apart from probiotic microbes which improve immunity.
Learning about his success, the horticulture department has come forward to support him with subsidies and market the fruit. Sakthivel, additional director of horticulture department, told TNIE, "It is a new venture in the district and we have recorded its success. We have requested the government to provide new schemes with subsidies and create marketing avenues to encourage more farmers take up dragon fruit cultivation."