A 45-year-old north Bengal woman has helped her farming neighbours earn extra by pioneering the growing of dragon fruit in her region.
Abha Toppo, from Hatighisa village in the Darjelling district, formerly worked as a tea picker.
However, in 2013 she attended an agriculture workshop at the University of North Bengal.
“The scientists coached us about the importance of dragon fruit and higher returns,” she said.
“I bought just four saplings apprehending whether it could be of any use and planted them on my land.
“But to my surprise, the flowers blossomed and the fruit came out in the next 18 months. It was delicious,” she told Mongabay-India.
Abha, believed to be the first woman in the region to start growing dragon fruit commerically, now has more than 123 of the plants.
She sells the fruit through the markets and the stem cuttings to other growers who want to use the saplings to begin their own businesses.
More than 2,000 farmers in Bengal have followed her example in recent years, as dragon fruit – also known as the strawberry pear – not only generates profits but does well in a climate where water is at a premium.
The plants reputation as boosting immunity has also led to a greater demand amidst the global pandemic.
Scientifically known as Hylocereus un-datus, the dragon fruit is traditionally grown in countries like Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, the USA and Vietnam.
Dragon fruit production only began in India as a hobby in the 1990s among gardeners rather than commercially.
G Karunakaran, Principal Scientist at the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, said people were apprehensive about growing dragon fruit initially as it is a form of cactus.
“It was started on a mass scale by the scientists of North Bengal University in 2013 after they informed the farmers about its potential and income opportunities,” he said.