New Zealand scientists, working with partners in Vietnam, believe they have found a way to double dragonfruit production by changing the way the plants are trained.
For five years now Plant and Food Research scientists have been working in Vietnam as part of a New Zealand Aid Programme to improve returns for dragonfruit growers. Most of the growers have small holdings.
Suzie Newman, who leads Plant and Food Research's International Development & Aid team, says the project is entering an exciting phase. It's about to be scaled up and rolled out across different provinces.
"Dragonfruit's a great commodity for small growers to go into. It's very profitable for them. It's really about expanding that industry...and looking at how we can ensure that the production practices are relevant and that they have a good offering of varieties to utilise and that there are markets to go into."
The Vietnamese dragonfruit industry is worth US $1 billion. Eighty percent of the crop is exported to 39 markets.
Dragonfruit are part of the cactus family Suzie Newman says the plants look like a mop head and the fruit grows on cascading limbs called cladodes. Now it's recommended growers use T-bars and train the cladodes across them. It's a system similar to one once commonly used in kiwifruit orchards.
"We anticipate that production will be doubled with this system. We're still testing it and we're starting to roll it out now but that's what we anticipate. And certainly in terms of disease management, it'll be much easier just because you are getting great air movement around the crop."
The New Zealand scientists and their local partners have also found simple ways to control a new disease in dragonfruit, they've established how to extend its shelf life and they're developing varieties with new flavours and colours.