To 35-year old Enamul Kabir from Tilokpur village in Jessore's Chowgacha upazila, the dragon fruit is much more than a delectable source of vitamins. It's the crop that turned his life around. Dragon fruit gave hope after he broke his leg, at a time when his future was at its grimmest.
Now Kabir, known to all as Ismail, wants to inspire unemployed neighbours with his farming success.
“I graduated with a Masters in History from Jagannath University in 2000,” Ismail recalls. “Until 2012 I worked as a department manager for a Thai company. Then I had an accident at work and my leg was badly fractured. I had to resign. I gradually came to the realisation that I should pursue my own enterprise, locally, instead.”
Ismail scoured the internet for ideas, where he came upon the fruit. “The dragon fruit isn't only vitamin-rich,” he says of what has become his passion. “It has an excellent taste!”
From his job, Ismail had some savings. He also requested his father to act as guarantor for a bank loan. In 2015, he planted his first dragon fruit bushes on raised trellises, on two bighas of land at a cost of Tk 4 lakh.
“Before I started, I visited a dragon fruit farm in Dhaka's Savar to know more about it,” Ismail says. “It's quite expensive to get started but the potential profits are also good.”
Things went well. In 2016 Ismail harvested dragon fruit worth Tk 4 lakh, enough to recoup his start-up costs. The following year he sold fruits worth Tk 8 lakh. Nowadays he employs up to ten labourers to tend his farm.
“From January this year I expanded my farm to include seven additional bighas, at a cost of Tk 18 lakh,” Ismail remarks. “The expansion required 1,530 concrete pillars with iron rods and tyres to make the trellises. At the base of each pillar I can plant four dragon fruit bushes. The expected harvest from each pillar-cluster is up to 25 kilograms per annum.”
“Dragon fruit likes the sun, though it thrives best in a dry location with partial sun,” Ismail adds.
In the meantime he has diversified his enterprise to produce guavas. First sown in 2017, Ismail has already realised Tk 2 lakh from guava sales, with predictions of an additional Tk 5 lakh in sales this year.
For Ismail, about the most rewarding part of his improved fortunes is the potential for his farm to inspire others. “I feel for the unemployed, especially our young people,” Ismail says. “They can really suffer from the frustration of not having a job. I want them to be self-reliant like me, with hard work and sincerity.”
Indeed his farm has already attracted attention. “I planted dragon fruit on five bighas last year, taking inspiration and advice from Ismail,” says one local, Moniruzzaman.
“I have sown dragon fruit on three bighas this year,” says another visitor to the farm, Tarikul Islam from a village in Jessore Sadar upazila. “If the harvest is as expected I will reach my goal. Ismail has shown us that dragon fruit farming is profitable in this district.”
“Ismail is becoming an iconic farmer in our area,” says Chowgacha upazila's sub-assistant agriculture officer Md Chand Ali. “He is very energetic, does his best to achieve optimal harvests and is eager to share his knowledge.”
According to Rajib Kanti Roy, a lecturer at the department of food and nutrition technology at the Jessore University of Science and Technology, dragon fruit is rich in vitamin C, low in carbohydrates and suitable for diabetics. “The seeds are high in polyunsaturated fats that work to lower the risk of cardiovascular disorders,” says Roy. “Dragon fruit has high fibre content and can be a useful source of antioxidants and good fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. It also has cancer prevention properties, especially in relation to prostate cancer.”