Growing Dragon Fruits in Drought Prone Region? Engineer Earns Rs 2 Crore With Innovative Farming
At a time when dragon fruit was not popular in Maharashtra, Mahesh Asabe set up a profitable business with dragon fruit cultivation. Today, he leads the way by earning Rs 10 lakh per acre in the water-scarce Solapur district.
One of the most drought-prone districts of Maharashtra, Solapur struggles to end its water woes. With unseasonal rains and hailstorms, farmers of the district have been bearing the brunt of climate change and unprecedented agricultural losses over the last few decades.
Interestingly, Mahesh Asabe, an innovative farmer from the dry Akola village of the district, has made agriculture a profit-making sector in the dry region. He has led the way with dragon fruit cultivation and is now earning Rs 10 lakh per acre.
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“Traditionally, we have been growing pomegranates, custard apples, and grapes. With climate change, it has been difficult to cultivate these crops,” Mahesh tells The Better India.
“Today, we experience unseasonal rains and hailstorms. Sometimes, we get rain during the harvesting period of grapes. This washes away our year’s worth of hard work. Additionally, there has been an unprecedented increase in the cost of fertilisers over the years. It collectively made farming unprofitable,” adds the 27-year-old.
We sat down with the young farmer to understand how he reaped profits after switching to dragon fruit cultivation.
A dicey experiment
Since his childhood, Mahesh dreamt of becoming a farmer. To shape his dreams into reality, he went on to study agricultural engineering and then completed his master’s in food processing and engineering from Udaipur, Rajasthan, in 2020.
It was during his graduation years that the engineer read about dragon fruit farming in a magazine. “As it belongs to the cactus family, dragon fruit requires less water and nutrient requirements. It has a life expectancy of 20-25 years and gives multiple harvests in a year,” he explains.
“It has a high benefit-to-cost ratio, can survive the high summer heat and can be cultivated in any kind of harsh land,” he adds.
“I understood that it was the future crop of farming and we could earn handsomely with dragon fruits even in dry regions like ours,” Mahesh says.
So, in 2012, he went to Bangladesh to procure dragon fruit saplings. He bought 9,000 saplings at the rate of Rs 110 each and planted them on three acres of land.
With high hopes, he had invested the family income of up to Rs 17 lakh to prepare the farmland and plant the new crop that was still unknown to a large number of farmers in the region.
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What happened next devastated him.
Turning perils into opportunities
After a year of planting the crop, Mahesh did not get even a single fruit out of the 9,000 saplings. “I was very young and I was questioned about my decision to cultivate dragon fruits. When we got zero returns in the first year, I started feeling depressed. We didn’t even have any other business to survive on,” he shares.
Mahesh realised that the saplings he procured were not mature. “Ideally, the mother saplings should have been two years old. We got fooled with the produce. So, it took us two whole years to get returns from the crop,” he adds.
One of the other challenges before Mahesh was a lack of awareness from customers about this fruit, which heavily impacted the crop’s demand. “Nobody knew what dragon fruit was. After we managed to get some produce, we took it to the market. People doubted that this would even make any sale,” he says.
To overcome these challenges, Mahesh opened a YouTube channel to make farmers aware about the perks of dragon fruit farming which in turn led to a rise in consumption of the fruit. Over time, he gained good viewership and started attracting farmers to his field.
The progressive farmer has become an example for several other farmers in the region. He has also opened the doors of his ‘Rukmini Farms’ to serve as demonstration fields for others who wish to grow dragon fruits.
His farm has been visited by at least 35,000 farmers from across Maharashtra. Of these, he has trained and helped 500 switch to dragon fruit cultivation.
Today, Mahesh has developed a good customer base in the nearby Sangli and Kolhapur markets where he manages to sell his seasonal produce of at least 200 tonnes, earning an income of Rs 2 crores from his 20-acre dragon fruit farm.
This June, he also aims to launch his processing unit to sell Value-Added Products (VAP) including dragon fruit juice, squash, jam, and chocolates. “With our team of 500 farmers, I aim to enter into the export business with our top quality produce along with the VAPs in the processing industry,” he adds.
For his outstanding work in the field of agriculture, Mahesh was bestowed with several awards including the prestigious National Innovative Agri Youth Award 2021 by the Krishibhushan Maharashtra FPO Startup Federation.
He was also given the Krishak Samman Award by the Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, and the Krishithon Innovative Young Farmer award for innovative fruit farming and multi-fruit crop pattern by Krishithon – India’s premier agriculture trade fair in Nashik.
Looking back at his success, he shares, “Today’s generation looks at agriculture as a loss-making sector. With my example, I want to showcase that agriculture can be turned into a good business opportunity.”
“We need the younger generation in farming so that they can turn agriculture profitable by adopting new technologies over conventional methods because of their wit and skills. It was because of my education that I used social media and visited many countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Israel to learn how to deal with the challenges in farming and progress. This would not have been expected from the older generations,” he adds.
Edited by Padmashree Pande. All photos: Mahesh Asabe.
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