New dragon fruit varieties for SA growers

Dragon fruit is not well-known in South Africa, but the people behind a new venture based in Limpopo believe this niche fruit offers attractive commercial potential for local farmers.

Declared a ‘superfood’ in 2013 due to its health properties, demand for the fruit in SA, although low, is steady enough to warrant prices of about R50/kg, according to Amorentia Estate owner, Howard Blight.

Blight recently registered 14 new dragon fruit cultivars under the Amorentia Sweet Dragon Fruit brand. The series of white-, pink- and red-fleshed cultivars are sweeter than those currently available to South African growers and should therefore find more favour with consumers, he said.

Enough plant material to plant 1 000ha of dragon fruit will be released to licensed growers by the end of 2016.

There are currently only 20ha of dragon fruit in production in South Africa. According to Blight, the subtropical and tropical regions of the country offer ideal growing conditions.

The world’s largest producers are in Asia and are experiencing difficulties in delivering consistent supply of this fruit. “These countries don’t have the same reputation as South Africa when it comes to food safety requirements, as the residue levels of their fruit are too high,” he says.

The biggest concerns for exporters are bruising and over-maturity related to fungal infection, according to Dr Frans Kruger of Lowveld Postharvest Services.

Although a lot of local research has been done on dragon fruit, Dr Kruger said the fruit still needs to be more widely tested under South African conditions.