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Last Update: 16 Nov 2018
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Department of Agriculture Sarawak, 7 & 12-17th Floor, Menara Pelita,
Jln. Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub, Petra Jaya, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak
Tel. No.: 082-441000   Fax No.: 082-447821
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For more enquiries, please contact us:

Address :

Department of Agriculture Sarawak, 7th, 12-14, 16-17th Floor, Menara Pelita, Jln. Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub, Petra Jaya, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak

Tel. No.:  082-441000  
Fax No.:  082-447639 (Director Office), 
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PITAYA CULTIVATION IN SARAWAK

Introduction

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Picture 1: Pitaya Fruit

A fruit of triangular shaped climbing cacti (Hylocereus and Selenicerreus sp.) It is a native plant of Central South America e.g. Costa Rica, Mexico. Taiwanese call it 'Re Dragon Fruit'. There are three types of Dragon fruit, the 'White Pitaya', the 'Red Pitaya' and the 'Golden Pitaya'. Pitaya (red-flesh) crop was first introduced to Sarawak in the late 2000. The crop was brought in by mr. Lee Whung Thai from Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. In November 2000, he conducted a series of talks at hotel throughout the major towns in Sarawak. He also brought along some fruits for his audiences to sample. As a result from his talks, a few people picked up pitaya planting, with technical adviced provided by Mr. Lee himself. Pitaya processes a few unique features that appealed to some local horticultural hobbyists. Among its attractive features are as follows: the good taste of the pitaya fruit taste especially when complared to white-fleshed pitaya fruit, which has been available in the market for some time. The crop can be easily maintained. Not many pest and disease is associated with the crop. Thus, only minimal pesticide spray is required. The plant is said to require only organic fertiliser. The pitaya fruit is also being promoted as a health food. Eating red-fleshed pitaya fruit was reported to increase bone density, prevent colon cancer ane ease constipation. These factors as well as the prospect of a good economic return attracted these 'pioneers; to venture into pitaya planning.

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Picture 2: The farmer; Encik Tiong Kai Hua is proud of his success

Agronomic Practices

Pitaya plant cannot stand by itself. It is a climber and needs to be supported for it to grow upwards. Because the plant can live for a few decades, the support structure provided must be very lasting. In some countries like Taiwan and Peninsular Malaysia, concrete cement is used as a support for the plant. In Sarawak, belian wood is more because of its durability and ease of handling. A belian post and square frame is needed to support a mature pitaya plant. The recommended lenght of the beliak stalk is six feet. The stalk is poked into the soil up to one and half feed deep, leaving the height of the stalk four and a half feet above the ground. The recommended square frame isn 18 inches long measured on the outer edges and is nailed to the top of the stalk with a stainless steel nail.

Field Transplanting

The plant is propagated through cuttings. Pitaya cuttings shoud be transplanted after nursery for about one and a half months. By the time, young tender pseudo stem shoot, of about five to six inches in lenght would have appeared. Three cuttings should be planted at the three differents sides of the belian stalk, at about 4 inches away from the base of the belian stalk. The cutting should be planted at about 2 inches into the soil. Immediately after planting, the cuttings should be tied firmly to the belian stalk. This is to allow aerial roots to generate. Pitaya plants can grow very fast; sometime it grows by more that 3 cm a day during favourable weather conditions. Therefore the growing plant should be tied regularly to the stalk, preferably at weekly intervals. These aerial roots support the plant by forming a tight to the belian stalk. Allow only one pseudo stem to grow during this stage. If more pseudo stems appear, remove them using pruning knife. Under Sarawak conditions, it has been observer that the more vigorously growing pitaya plant can reached the top of the stalk between two and a half month to three month after transplanting. The recommended planting distance is eight feet by ten feet.

Pruning

Under favourable conditions, it takes the pseudo stem about two and a half to three months to reach the top of the belian stalk, after which further growing would cause the pseudo stem to over-arch the square frame. As the shoot continued to grow over-arching the square frame, more secondary pseudo stems would appear from the primary stem. Allow for only three or four secondary shoots to grow from each primary shoot and prune off any excess shoots. As the primary shoots grow, further tertiary shoots would appear. Again allow for om;u three or four tertiary shoots to grow from each secondary shoot. The overall result of pruning process is to achive a pitaya plant stand that has balanced and well spread out pseudo stem canopy. A good stand of pitaya should have about 30 pseudo stem that are well distsributed across the square frame.

Fruiting

Pitaya plant starts to bear fruits seven to eight months after field transplanting. Flower buds furst appear along the budeyes of the pseudo stems. A flower bud take about 10 days to develop into full bloom flower. Pitaya flower stay full blown for only a brief duration, usually lasting for one night. Pollination is said to be carried out during late evening. The pollination flower will into mature fruit within 35 to 45 days depending on weather conditions. Young pitata fruit is green in colour. When the fruit ripen, the color turns red. Pitaya fruit are due for harvesting when cleaves appear inside the cavity of fruit scare or when the tip of the calyx turn yellow. Pitaya fruits vary greatly in size. Most of the fruit produced are smell, weighing less than 300 g each. Only a small percentage, less than 25% of the fruits are considered as big, weighing more than 500 g each.

Pitaya fruits can be kept at room temperature for more than 10 days without going bad. However, the fruits can last for more than six weeks if stored inside a refrigerator.


Fertilizing Application

No trial has even been carried out to determine the optimum requirement of the crop. However, based on farmers' practices, mainly organic fertiliser is applied at the rate of about 300 g per mound during the young stage, applied at monthly interval. The rate is increased to 500-600 g per mound at fruiting stage and applied 45 days interval. Compound fertiliser at the rate of about 30 g per mound is occasionally applied to the mature plants. The method of fertiliser application is by broadcasting.


Weeding

Weeding along the inter row space can be carried out using chemical spray. However, weeds close to the planting mounds should be removed manually. Weedicide spray the planting mounds shoud be avoided lest that weedicide would cause injuries to the roots of the plants. It is reported that Basal 2000 does not cause injuries to the roots of the plants.


Pest and Disease

At present, there is not many pest or disease associated with pitaya fruit. Among the more common pest are the black ants, snails and scale insects. Black ants can sometimes cause fruit blemishes by burrowing into the fruits. Snails cause damage by imbibing young and tender tissues of shoots. Scale insects cause damage by sticking to the pseudo stem. Sometimes the succulent tissue of the pseudo stems are found to rot. This usually occurs during dry weather and is presumably causes by severe sunlight. Fortunately, none of the pests or discussed above is infections or threatening to the plant.


Products of Pitaya Plant

Different parts of pitaya plant can be processed into different products. The fruits can be used for making 'red pitaya' wine. It can also be squashed to make fruit juice. The fruits can also be processed into various type of desserts like pudding and agar-agar.

Young pitaya flower can be harvested to make 'drink' while the young, tender pseudo stems can be cooked into delicious dish.


Prospects for Pitaya Cultivation

At present, pitaya can be a profitable crop to venture. A kg of the fruit is sold at between RM10.00 to RM15.00. A hectare of well managed pitaya garden can yield about 70,000 kg. If the wholesale price is RM4.00 per kg fruit, then the net profit from pitaya cultication is estimated at RM260,000 per hectare per year.


Table 1: Estimated cost for one hectare cultivation of pitaya (1300 mounds), including cost for maintenance at mature stage for one year

ITEM UNIT COST
(RM)
QUANTITY
REQUIRED
TOTAL COST
(RM)
Labour cost land clearing 3000 1 3000
Labour for chemical spray 18/manday 6 rounds 108
Labour for fertiliser application 18/manday 13 rounds 648
Pruning 18/manday 72 rounds 216
Material cost planting materials (cuttings) 8.5/cutting 3900 33150
Belian posts 5.00/innos 1300 6500
Square frame 5.00/innos 1300 6500
Organic fertiliser 0.85/kg 4680 3980
Weedicide (Basal 2000) - gallon 65 15 gallons 975

 

 

PITAYA PLANTING AT LUBOK NIBONG, MARUDI

A success story from Mr. Hwong Wei Chong @ Ah Chong from Marudi, who accidentally found out that 'Pitaya' plant, also known as dragon fruit plant can grow well in the poor white-sandy leached soil or karengas soil (karengas in an iban word for soil where paddy cannot grow).

About four years ago, Ah Chong brought in some 'white pitaya' cutting from Sarikei, which he planted at the foot of his pepper garden, where probably the plant can utilized fully the nutrient that leached down from his pepper garden. He found out that 'pitaya' plant grew well in that poor areas, where his pepper plant could not grew well.

In 2001, Ah Chong had planted 3000 vines of pepper. He had converted about a third of his pepper garden into a 'pitaya garden' due to the poor growth of his pepper plants and dropped in pepper's price. Presently, he still maintained 2000 vines of his pepper.

In 2003, Ah Chong had harvested one big 'white pitaya' fruit that weighted 1200 grams and was published in the local Chinese newspaper. This had caught attention of our Department and SRDO Robert Ringgot, in particular.

In 2004, our department had assisted Mr. Hwong Wei Chong and supplied him with 200 'red pitaya' cuttings and fertilizer. Ah Chong's pitaya garden had been chosen as our Farm Demonstration Plot. Ah Chong began to gain more interest in the planting of pitaya plant because of the good price of their fruits. To date, he had planted about 1000 points of white pitaya and still expanding his garden with red pitaya. Presently, Ah Chong has not encounter any drawback with regards to his agronomic practices.

Pitaya is the fruit of triangular shaped climbing cacti (Hylocereus sp. and Selenicereus sp.), originated from Central South America (Costa Rica and Mexico). The crop can be maintained easily and not many pests and diseases are associated with the crop. Thus only minimal pesticide is required. Pitaya plant is a fast growing plant and can bear fruit 7 to 8 months after transplanting. The support structure for this plant must be durable because this plant can live for a few decades. Those farmers who are interested to plant this pitaya, the recommended agronomic practices can be obtained from the nearest Agriculture Office in your area (ref. Proceedings of the In-House Seminar On New Crops With Potential For Commercialization).

Presently, Ah Chong only markets his pitaya in Marudi (Tamu). White Pitaya are sold at RM6.00 per kilogram while Red Pitaya are sold at RM15.00 per kg. The pitaya fruit had been promoted as a health food. Eating red-fleshed pitaya fruit was reported to increase bone density, prevent colon cancer and ease constipation. This can explained why red pitaya cost mosre expensive as compared to white pitaya.




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