Dragon Fruit Farming In Kenya; A Complete Cultivation Guide
Dragon fruit farming in Kenya is certainly on the rise. This exotic fruit, known for its vibrant colors and unique taste, has been capturing the attention of farmers and consumers alike. With its adaptability to different climates and relatively low maintenance requirements, dragon fruit has become a beacon of possibility for Kenyan farmers looking to diversify their crops and boost their income.
Dragon fruit also called pitaya has lately gained prominence in the Kenyan market? Well overwhelming everyone with a new admiration, from buyers who attribute this to its nutrition values and strengthening of the immune system. The fruit derives its name from its unique appearance, where the spikes resemble fire and the scales resemble that of a dragon.
The dragon fruit scientifically referred to as Hylocereusundatus is mainly grown in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, the USA, and Vietnam. Hence its availability in Kenya is mainly from the imports into the country. However, with an increase in demand, some of the farmers have taken a step into venturing into this sector of producing it.
The tropical climate of many regions in Kenya provides an ideal environment for dragon fruit cultivation. These cactus-like plants thrive in warm temperatures and well-drained soil, making parts of Kenya especially suitable for their growth. From the arid landscapes of Turkana to the coastal areas of Mombasa, dragon fruit has shown its ability to adapt and flourish, bringing new economic prospects to various communities.
One of the remarkable aspects of dragon fruit farming is its water efficiency. Given the ongoing challenges of water scarcity in certain parts of Kenya, this characteristic holds significant appeal for environmentally conscious farmers. The ability of dragon fruit plants to thrive with minimal irrigation makes it a sustainable choice and reduces the overall strain on local water resources.
Starting a dragon fruit farm in Kenya might require some initial investment and learning, but the potential rewards are compelling. The fruit’s popularity in international markets, driven by its status as a “superfood” packed with nutrients, presents a valuable opportunity for Kenyan farmers to tap into global demand. Moreover, the various parts of the dragon fruit plant, such as its flowers and stems, can also be utilized for additional products, adding to the income streams generated by a single crop.
Although dragon fruit is in the cactus family, it is not like the cacti you typically see in the desert.
This article targets
- Farmers who want to plant mainly for value addition especially wine.
- Farmers who want to sell their produce to fruit vendors or directly to consumer
- And growers for own consumption
Dragon Fruit Varieties In Kenya
- RedWhite Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undatus): This is the most common variety of dragon fruit grown in Kenya. It has a red skin and white flesh. The fruit is about the size of a chicken egg, hence the name. It has a mild, sweet flavor and a slightly crunchy texture.
- Red Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus polyrhizus): This variety has a red skin and red flesh. The fruit is slightly larger than the Hen Egg Dragon Fruit. It has a sweet and tangy flavor and a smooth texture.
- Yellow Dragon Fruit (Selenicereus megalanthus): This variety has a yellow skin and white flesh. The fruit is the largest of the three varieties, and it has a slightly sweet flavor. It has a creamy texture and a slightly floral aroma.
Ecological Requirement On Dragon Fruit Farming In Kenya
Climatic requirements on dragon fruit farming in Kenya
Dragon fruit thrives in a tropical to subtropical climate. In Kenya, areas with warm temperatures and moderate humidity are ideal for dragon fruit farming. The climate should be relatively dry during the fruiting period to prevent issues like fungal diseases. Consistent temperature ranges between 20°C to 35°C are generally suitable for healthy growth.
Suitable Soil for dragon fruit farming in Kenya
Well-draining soil is essential for dragon fruit cultivation. Sandy or loamy soils with good drainage prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH ranging from 6 to 7.5 is the best for dragon fruit farming. Prior to planting, soil preparation should involve incorporating manure to improve soil structure and fertility.
Best Altitude for dragon fruit farming in Kenya
In Kenya, dragon fruit can be grown at a range of altitudes, but typically lower to mid-altitude areas are more favorable. Elevations between 0 to 1,800 meters (0 to 5,900 feet) above sea level are suitable for dragon fruit cultivation. As altitude increases, there might be variations in temperature and humidity that could impact growth, so microclimate considerations become important.
Sunlight requirement on dragon fruit farming in Kenya
Dragon fruit plants are sun-loving and require plenty of sunlight to thrive. They need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily for optimal growth and fruit production. Choosing a sunny location or providing appropriate shading if needed during extremely hot periods is crucial. Too much shade can lead to weak plants and reduced fruiting.
Seedlings Preparations On Dragon Fruit Farming In Kenya
You can opt to purchase ready to plant, well rooted dragon fruit seedlings from Farmers Trend Nurseries via 0724-559286, this will save you from lots of hustle.
Dragon fruit seeds can be extracted from mature fruits and used to grow new seedlings. However, it’s important to note that dragon fruit seeds may not produce plants that are true to the parent plant, which means there can be variations in fruit quality and characteristics. Here’s how you can propagate dragon fruit seedlings from seeds:
- Collect seeds from ripe dragon fruit and wash them thoroughly.
- Plant the seeds in a well-draining seed-starting mix, burying them about 1/4 inch deep.
- Keep the soil consistently moist and provide warmth and bright, indirect sunlight.
- Germination can take several weeks, and once the seedlings are large enough to handle, they can be transplanted into individual pots.
This is the most common and reliable method for propagating dragon fruit in Kenya. It involves taking cuttings from a mature plant and rooting them to grow new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant. Here’s how to propagate dragon fruit seedlings through cuttings:
- Select healthy, mature stems from a mature dragon fruit plant.
- Cut segments that are about 12 to 18 inches long, ensuring each segment has at least one node.
- Allow the cuttings to air dry for a few days to form calluses. This helps prevent rotting during rooting.
- Plant the callused cuttings in well-draining soil or a mix of sand and perlite.
- Keep the soil lightly moist and provide indirect sunlight until the cuttings root and new growth emerges.
A dragon fruit bud takes 13 days to develop into a flower from a node after which it will open up for pollination on the night of the 13th day.
It is important to note that it’s the only chance that the flower has to get pollinated, if pollination doesn’t happen then, the flower will not grow into a fruit.
Otherwise, it will develop into a fruit that will be ripe and ready for harvesting after 38 days since pollination.
Overall, it only takes 52 days from the day a fruit bud emerges to have a fruit ready.
Dragon fruit starts production from 11th Month with peak production from 2nd year and can continue with good harvest for a lifespan of more than 15 years.
Dragon fruits do well in arid and semi-arid areas with a temperature rate of between 20°c- 30°c and annual rainfall of about 40-60mm.
Dragon Fruit Plant Population Per Acre
Spacing is important since a narrower spacing gives quicker production than larger spacing. This is to prevent plants from falling. In Dragon fruit spacing, the size and slope of the plantation are factors to take into consideration. In small-scall growers, proper spacing is not necessary. To avoid or lower the chances of diseases outbreak, wider spacing is highly recommended. It will also allow sufficient air circulation.
If you are using a spacing of 2 meters by 2 meters, you can fit 1,600 dragon fruit plants in an acre.
An acre is equal to 43,560 square feet. If you divide that by the area of each planting space, you get 1,600.
So, if you have an acre of land and you want to plant dragon fruit with a spacing of 2 meters by 2 meters, you can plant 1,600 plants. Note also that the shape of the farm can affect the population not to mention the distance from the fence.
Keep in mind that you will need a to plant 2-4 plants per hole with a supporting wooden or concrete pole at the middle.
This will result to dragon fruit population per acre to between 3,200 – 6,400 plants for maximum production.
Planting Dragon Fruit In Kenya
First, prepare holes spaced out two meters apart; these holes for dragon fruits should measure atleast 60 cm x 60 cm x 60 cm. And each should have a supporting concrete or wooden post for the climbing dragon plant vines.
While planting the cuttings, fill the pits with a topsoil and manure mix. Additionally, each plant needs inorganic fertilizers for good vegetative growth. The quantities for each plant cutting are 40g of muriate of potash, 90g of superphosphate, and 70g of urea.
During the fruit-bearing stage, you should adjust the proportions as follows: 100g of muriate of potash, 50g of superphosphate, and 50g of urea.
This solution increases your fruit yield, and you can apply it just before flowering, fruit development, or even after harvesting.
Dragon Fruit Trellis
The dragon fruit is an upright shrub that grows very quickly and easily. It requires a protected area in order to mature and produce lush fruits. Dragon fruit plants may be grown on the ground without any support, but it is highly recommended to have trellis or support columns. These columns should be made of concrete or wood because when the plants become fully grown with aerial roots from the main stem, they are very heavy and need strong support.
It is recommended to provide a circular metal frame for better support and 2 ×2 m space around each plant to allow the plants to spread and grow uniformly. The supporting poles or trellis should be 4.7 inches (12 cm) in diameter and 6.6 feet (2 meters) long. After establishing in the field, these poles should be at least 1.4 to 1.5 meters (4.6-5 ft) high from ground level.
There are different kinds of trellis systems. Single poles with wood or cement and iron ring, continuous pyramid stands, and ‘T’ stands with two different cultivars. However, only two kinds of trellis support that is commonly used. These are single posts, wires stretched across a row held up by uniformly spaced posts. The materials needed for this multi-stemmed plant must be well-built.
The trellis system that is effective and proven that gives better performance in growth and yield than other systems is the single pole. This works best in commercial production since it can support the weight of the plants and allow easy access to flowers and fruit.
Dragon Fruit Yield Per Acre
In Kenya according to experienced farmers, dragon fruit can yield an average of 6500Kgs per acre during the first two years of growth and assuming a plant population of 2400 plants. As the tree progresses, the yield increases to 10,000 to 12,000Kgs per acre. Each dragon fruit is normally around 300 – 1000 grams in weight.
Cost and Profitability Of Dragon Fruit Farming
- Land preparation: 1200 holes * 40 kshs/hole = 48,000 kshs
- Irrigation system setup: 80,000 kshs
- Poles and materials for trellis setup: 1200 poles * 300 kshs/pole = 360,000 kshs
- Dragon fruit seedlings or cuttings: 500 kshs/seedling * 6400 seedlings = 3,200,000 kshs
- Total Initial Investment: 48,000 + 80,000 + 360,000 + 3,200,000 = 3,698,000 – 3,944,000 kshs
- Labor: 5,000 kshs
- Fertilizers and soil amendments: 4,500 kshs
- Pest and disease management: 4,500 kshs
- Pruning and training: 5,000 kshs
- Miscellaneous expenses: 20,000 kshs
(3,698,000 – 3,944,000) kshs + 5,000 + 4,500 + 4,500 + 5,000 + 20,000 = 3,727,000 – 3,964,000 kshs/acre
15 kgs to 25 kgs per plant
500 kshs/kg to 1200 kshs/kg
Profits from dragon fruit per acre:
(15 kgs/plant * 6400 plants * 500 kshs/kg) – (3,727,000 – 3,964,000) kshs/acre = Ksh 375,000 to 750,000 kshs/acre
(25 kgs/plant * 6400 plants * 1200 kshs/kg) – (3,727,000 – 3,964,000) kshs/acre = Ksh 1,250,000 to 1,950,000 kshs/acre
The expected profit from dragon fruit farming in Kenya varies depending on the yield and price per kilogram. If the yield is 15 kgs per plant and the price per kilogram is 500 kshs, the profit is Ksh 750,000 per acre. If the yield is 25 kgs per plant and the price per kilogram is 1200 kshs, the profit is Ksh 1,950,000 per acre.
NOTE: 3,200,000 kshs can all come down if you plant few vines like 20 pcs and use them to generate cuttings to fill an acre instead of purchasing seedlings.
This means that you can save, 3,000,000 Kshs from purchasing seedlings alone and make a kill of 3,750,000 – 4,950,000 Kshs in profits from an acre of dragon fruits alone.
It is important to note that these are just estimates, and the actual profits may vary depending on the specific circumstances. However, the cost analysis outlined above can give you a good idea of the costs and profits involved in dragon fruit farming.
If you are considering starting a dragon fruit farm, it is important to do your research and plan carefully. By following the cost analysis outlined above, you can increase your chances of success.
Market for dragon fruit in Kenya
There’s increasing demand for dragon fruits, but the supply remains low. Upmarket areas with a ready market for the fruit include Muthaiga, Westlands, Karen, and Parklands; here, they are popular among the Asian communities.
Supermarkets, hotels, and open-air markets are also great places for selling your fruits after harvesting, as more Kenyans appreciate the numerous health benefits of the dragon fruit.
Lastly, the export market remains largely untapped, as dragon fruit farming is relatively new in Kenya. A kilo of dragon fruits retails between Ksh. 500 to Ksh. 1,200.
How To Eat Dragon Fruit
Slice the fruit lengthwise, scoop out the pulp with a spoon, or cut it into cubes and mix it into your favorite salads, yogurt, or smoothies. You can also snack on the fruit by itself, as it has a delicious flavor, a slightly sweet cross between a pear and a kiwi fruit.
Benefits of Dragon Fruit
- High in antioxidants: Dragon fruit is a good source of antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from damage. Antioxidants can also help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
- Good source of fiber: Dragon fruit is a good source of fiber, which can help regulate digestion and promote bowel regularity. Fiber can also help you feel full, which can aid in weight loss or weight management.
- May boost immunity: Dragon fruit is a good source of vitamin C, which is an important nutrient for the immune system. Vitamin C helps the body fight off infection and disease.
- May lower blood sugar levels: Dragon fruit may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. This is because dragon fruit contains fiber, which can help slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
- May improve heart health: Dragon fruit is a good source of potassium, which is an important mineral for heart health. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure and heart rate.
- May protect against cancer: Dragon fruit contains antioxidants that may help protect against cancer. Antioxidants can help reduce damage to cells caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells and lead to cancer.
- May help with weight loss: Dragon fruit is low in calories and fat, and it is a good source of fiber. This makes it a good choice for people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
- May improve eye health: Dragon fruit is a good source of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for eye health and can help prevent night blindness and other eye problems.
- May boost energy levels: Dragon fruit is a good source of carbohydrates, which can provide the body with energy. It is also a good source of vitamin B1, which is important for energy metabolism.
- May improve skin health: Dragon fruit is a good source of antioxidants, which can help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can damage the skin and lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and age spots.
- May reduce inflammation: Dragon fruit contains antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is linked to a number of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
Pests and Diseases affecting dragon fruit farming in Kenya
Dragon fruit farming in Kenya, like any agricultural activity, is susceptible to various pests and diseases that can impact plant health and productivity. Here are some common pests and diseases that can affect dragon fruit farming in Kenya:
- Mealybugs: These sap-sucking insects can infest dragon fruit plants, causing stunted growth and deformation. They excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can attract mold and other pests.
- Aphids: Aphids feed on plant sap and can transmit viruses to dragon fruit plants. Their presence can result in distorted growth and reduced fruit quality.
- Scale Insects: These tiny insects attach themselves to plant stems and leaves, sucking out sap and weakening the plant. They often appear as small, waxy bumps on the plant’s surface.
- Thrips: Thrips feed on dragon fruit flowers and young shoots, causing deformities and blemishes on the fruit. They can also transmit plant viruses.
- Fruit Flies: Fruit flies can lay their eggs in ripe dragon fruit, leading to infested and spoiled fruit.
Pest Treatment for Dragon Fruit
The land should be treated with fertilisers in mounds. The fertilisers used should be 20-kilogram organic fertilisers 0.5 kilograms superphosphate and 1kg of NPK16-16-8 should be used per 50 postings before the actual plantings of dragon fruit plants.
During the plantation stage, 50 grams of Urea combined with 50 grams of phosphate should be used three times a year during the first year.
- Anthracnose: Anthracnose is a fungal disease that can cause dark lesions on dragon fruit stems, leaves, and fruits. It thrives in humid conditions and can lead to fruit rot.
- Bacterial Soft Rot: This bacterial disease can cause blackening and softening of plant tissues, leading to plant collapse and fruit decay.
- Stem Canker: Stem canker is caused by a fungal pathogen that can infect and damage dragon fruit stems, causing wilting and dieback.
- Root Rot: Excessive moisture and poor drainage can lead to root rot, a condition where the roots of the plant decay, resulting in stunted growth and plant death.
- Yellowing Diseases: Various viral diseases can cause yellowing of dragon fruit plants’ leaves and overall decline in plant health.
FAQs on dragon fruit farming in Kenya
1. Q: What is dragon fruit farming, and why is it gaining popularity in Kenya? A: Dragon fruit farming involves cultivating a unique and exotic fruit known for its vibrant appearance and health benefits. Its popularity in Kenya is due to the rising demand for nutritious and specialty fruits, as well as its adaptability to various climatic conditions.
2. Q: What are the suitable climatic conditions for dragon fruit farming in Kenya? A: Dragon fruit thrives in warm and subtropical climates. Areas with temperatures between 20°C to 35°C are ideal, and regions with moderate humidity are conducive to its growth.
3. Q: How is dragon fruit propagated in Kenya? A: Dragon fruit can be propagated through cuttings, which involve taking stem segments from a mature plant and rooting them to grow new plants.
4. Q: What is the best soil type for dragon fruit cultivation? A: Well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6 to 7.5) is ideal for dragon fruit farming. Sandy or loamy soils are preferred.
5. Q: How many dragon fruit plants can I cultivate per acre in Kenya? A: Depending on spacing, around 3200 to 6400 dragon fruit plants can be grown per acre.
6. Q: What is the expected yield of dragon fruit per acre in Kenya? A: On average, mature dragon fruit plants can yield around 10,000 to 20,000 pounds (4,500 to 9,000 kg) of fruit per acre per year.
7. Q: What pests and diseases affect dragon fruit farming in Kenya? A: Common pests include mealybugs, aphids, and thrips, while diseases include anthracnose, bacterial soft rot, and stem canker.
8. Q: How do I manage pests and diseases in my dragon fruit plantation? A: Practice good sanitation, proper irrigation, use disease-resistant varieties, and consider integrated pest management (IPM) strategies involving cultural, biological, and chemical controls.
9. Q: What is the average time it takes for dragon fruit plants to start bearing fruit in Kenya? A: Generally, dragon fruit plants start bearing fruit within 1 to 2 years of planting, but it can vary based on factors like plant age and growing conditions.
10. Q: What type of trellis system is suitable for dragon fruit in Kenya? A: Vertical trellis systems with poles and support structures are commonly used for dragon fruit cultivation in Kenya.
11. Q: How often should I water dragon fruit plants? A: Dragon fruit plants prefer well-drained soil and should be watered regularly, especially during flowering and fruiting stages. Avoid overwatering to prevent root rot.
12. Q: What nutrients do dragon fruit plants require? A: Dragon fruit plants benefit from balanced fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as micronutrients like magnesium and iron.
13. Q: Can dragon fruit be grown organically in Kenya? A: Yes, organic practices can be applied to dragon fruit farming by using natural fertilizers, practicing IPM, and avoiding synthetic chemicals.
14. Q: How do I know when dragon fruit is ripe and ready to harvest? A: Dragon fruit is ripe when its color is vibrant, and the fruit gives slightly when pressed. It should be firm but not too hard.
15. Q: What is the market demand for dragon fruit in Kenya? A: The market demand for dragon fruit is growing due to its exotic appeal and perceived health benefits. Local and international markets show interest in this fruit.
16. Q: Can dragon fruit be grown in containers or pots in Kenya? A: Yes, dragon fruit can be grown in containers or pots, making it suitable for urban gardening or limited space scenarios.
17. Q: How do I prevent sunburn on dragon fruit plants in the Kenyan sun? A: Provide partial shade to young plants and gradually expose them to direct sunlight to prevent sunburn. Mature plants can withstand full sun.
18. Q: What are the potential challenges faced by dragon fruit farmers in Kenya? A: Challenges may include pest and disease management, market access, weather fluctuations, and finding suitable varieties.
19. Q: Are there training and resources available for new dragon fruit farmers in Kenya? A: Yes, agricultural extension services, workshops, and online resources offer guidance on dragon fruit cultivation in Kenya.
20. Q: What is the expected return on investment for dragon fruit farming in Kenya? A: Return on investment can vary widely based on factors like yield, expenses, and market conditions. Conduct thorough research and financial planning for accurate projections.