The relative newcomer dragon fruit shows hope and promise for the people in Bangladesh's hill districts.
Originally from Mexico and nowadays common in Southeast Asia and China, the fruit is being cultivated in the hills of Bandarban.
Dragon saplings grow with the support of poles and require less irrigation. With proper care, growers in the hill district are getting expected yields.
Toyo Mro of Chimbuk Mountain's Basantapara is one of the successful dragon farmers of the hills.
Toyo cultivated dragon fruits on 50 decimals of land on a hillslope. He planted trees three years back. Following instructions of horticulture centre officials, the farmers took proper care of the dragon trees. As a result, they harvested a good yield at the end of a year.
Despite being unsure about the output, Toyo harvested 15 maund of fruits from 300 plants and made Tk1.70 lakh profit.
Encouraged by the initial success, he planned to expand his cultivation. In 2017, Toyo set up 410 polls on an acre of new land while the horticulture centre provided him with 50 more polls. He grew 1,840 dragon trees at a cost of Tk4 lakh.
Toyo targeted to make Tk10 lakh of profit from the expanded portion of his cultivation. He said he had so far sold dragon fruits of Tk9.5 lakh.
Initially, people would buy dragon fruits, said Toyo, just to taste the new arrival in the market. Then some government officials and tourists from Dhaka and Chattogram started buying the fruit regularly. But it has, now, large local demand too.
Toyo sometimes takes the fruits by himself to Bandarban district town for sale. Retailers also buy the fruit from him.
Inspired by his success, said the farmer, people in his area are turning to dragon fruit cultivation on a limited scale.
The horticulture centre provides growers with necessary support as they lack knowledge of taking the proper care of the new fruit, said Toyo.
The agriculture department said dragon plants start bearing fruits one year after planting saplings. Growers can begin harvesting fruits from March-April and continue until November-December. That is why the dragon is a "fruit of all seasons".
Dragon fruit farming has become a profitable business. One kilogram of dragon fruit is selling for between Tk200 and Tk350 depending on size. Plus, the nutritious value of the fruit is high.
Mizanur Rahman, deputy director at the horticulture centre, said they have so far supplied dragon saplings to 40 orchards in Bandarban.
He expects the fruit will have a good demand in the coming two years. Growers will get back the costs of cultivation in just two years. After that, they will start making a profit almost effortlessly.