The project initially aimed at research and development on the control of dragon fruit diseases and pests in the Southeast and South Asia. The first project workshop and steering committee meeting held in Taiwan in 2018 recognized the complexity and interlinked issues along the dragon fruit value chain, and various technical needs and problems voiced by the partner countries. The project expanded its scope from the control of diseases to the full spectrum of the value chain with the intention to foster information exchange and set up a platform for dragon fruit experts to propose project ideas and proposals for funding. The third year of the project aimed to strengthen the network and improve its functions. Main tasks implemented in the 3rd project year included (1) manage the DFNet platform, (2) organize the DFNet workshop and steering committee meeting, (3) publish a dragon fruit book, and (4) prepare a phase II proposal for funding.
DFNet website/platform was launched in December 2018. The website contains 137 articles and 68 news reports related to dragon fruit research and industry. Information on the website is open access and searchable by year, country and topic (variety, crop management, postharvest, pests and diseases, quarantine and marketing, processing, nutrition). About 6,370 people from 120 countries visited the website with the highest number of visitors coming from the USA, India, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam. One hundred and seventeen people registered to download and receive DFNet information. DFNet includes 23 voluntary international expert members whose expertise was grouped into: breeding, germplasm exchange and production (5 members), postharvest handling (6) plant protection (8) and marketing (4). Four group leaders were elected during the 2nd year Steering Committee Meeting (SCM). They actively participated in the 3rd year project activities including organizing the workshop, SCM discussion, and phase II proposal development.
The 3rd DFNet workshop “Dragon Fruit Value Chain for Global Markets” and SCM was held on 22-23 September onsite at the National Chung-Hsing University and online at the Webex virtual meeting room.
TARI at headquarters and Fengshan branch and COA-AFA were the key partners for the DFNet project and workshop, providing FFTC with technical backstopping. Live streamed videos of the two-day workshop were broadcast via FFTC-Facebook.
The workshop invited 12 speakers, 4 moderators, 4 DFNet group leaders from Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, to discuss Dragon fruit export and import in country perspectives, GAP and quarantine inspection for international markets, value addition and consumer preferences, and success stories. The 2nd day workshop program was devoted to a 2-hr Steering Committee Meeting discussion on Phase II development and 1.5-hr video presentations from three dragon fruit farmers, breeders and value addition programs in Taiwan. The workshop was successfully concluded by an address from Dr. Su-San Chang.
Workshop website: https://sites.google.com/fftc.org.tw/dfnet-workshop-en
Dragon fruit production and markets in Asia are fast-growing for the past ten years. Even though overall production has increased, dragon fruit producers have seen the fruit prices decline since they are mainly sold for local consumption or to neighboring countries. The recent rapid expansion of dragon fruit production in China significantly reduced export opportunities for Vietnam, the leading dragon fruit exporting country; furthermore, it has negatively impacted dragon fruit producers in Asian-Pacific countries, not only those that used to target export markets to China but also the domestic markets. Fast and adaptive responses to both local and international markets are required. While adjusting the crop priority and marketing strategies, the countries affected the most or to be affected by the rise of dragon fruit production in China must target distant high-value export markets as suggested by DFNet members.
Access to international high-end markets would enhance profitability. Several technical barriers and commercial challenges need to be resolved. The challenges include fragmented farming area; raising farmer consciousness of using chemicals; awareness on the requirements of cold chain storage and transportation, proper postharvest handling; and marketing challenges such as non-guaranteed product output , inability of marketers to offer exclusive purchasing contracts with farmers, small enterprises with limited capacity to create a marketing plan and enter large distribution channels.
Exporters should try their best to assure product quality, and even then there are many challenges ahead. For example, the approaches include unifying product quality standards throughout the country following Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) programs in place; international food hygiene and safety standards; diversifying products from R&D of new varieties, food processing, and promotion trade activities. A lesson learned from New Zealand’s fruit exportation success is the focus on consumer and market requirements for top quality products and increased production efficiencies to offset input costs of labor, and transport costs. For countries in early stages of dragon fruit industry development such as India and Cambodia, dragon fruit production is on the rise and the challenges are the production and disease management constraints and capacity development.
A one-day field trip was organized with TARI-Fengshan on 8 September to showcase various dragon fruit cultivation and management practices in Taiwan (organic, open-field, net-house, and grass cultivations and Global G.A.P. certified orchard) and approaches to integrate diverse stallholder farmers to deliver stable, high quality, safe and healthy products for food industry and consumers (KK Orchard and Homemakers Union Consumers Co-op). Guests from several diplomatic mission offices (New Zealand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, and US), COA, MOFA, NTU, TARI, DARES were invited to join the trip.
The project conducted three workshops in project years and collected most updated information on dragon fruit. About 20 papers from workshop proceedings were selected, revised by authors and passed through a peer-review process for book publication, expected to be accomplished in December.
Suggestions and conclusions
Preparation of the Phase II project proposal is underway. DFNet group leaders and key partners were consulted. The core-capacity and missions of FFTC, scop of the funding, and recommendations from previous workshops and SCMs are taken into considerations in preparing the proposal.
DFNet group leaders and members who participated in the SCM were interested to continue to serve for the DFNet. The conscience of the Phase II project direction was reached during the 3rd SCM and recommended:
Continue with the DFNet platform, with additional strengthening with core- and volunteer-based international experts, establishment of a helpline linked to international expert volunteers and demonstrations of key technologies along the value chain for domestic and international markets.
Agree on the proposed project components of (1) knowledge management, (2) key DF technology and technical service identified for demonstration, (3) online/ onsite workshops, forum/ field trips conducted or facilitated, and (4) project monitoring, reporting and evaluation. In addition to the technical information, market information should be collected and included in the DFNet database.
Agree and include the proposed technology and services (1) Global/ regional G.A.P. (2) Postharvest handling, quarantine treatment and cold storage, (3) farmers to processors programs (processing and value addition), (4) farmers to consumer programs (e-commerce), (5) consumer-oriented evaluation and promotion of dragon fruit (branding, health benefits and international promotion) for demonstrations.
Approximately 300 people from 33 countries, including Taiwan, India, US, Philippines, Vietnam and 28 other countries registered the workshop. Participants included 73 registered onsite, 151 registered online, 35 speakers, moderators, VIP guests online/onsite. Approximately 15-30 students joined onsite from NCHU. About 12%of the participants work on farming. Live streamed video via FFTC-Facebook (5-day statistics from 22-26 September) had 10.1K views and approximately 700 engaged by providing comments and sharing.
DFNet workshop feedback: Online survey forms in Chinese and English were sent to participants (excluded students from NCHU and secretariate staff). 40 feedback forms (20 onsite; 20 online) received. The survey used a five-point scale (1-5, very poor, poor, fair, good, very good) and 95% of the feedback indicated scores of 4 or 5 for overall satisfaction with the workshop, the relevance, and usefulness of workshop content to their current work. About 75-85% indicated scores of 4 or 5 for the logistics-related questions (workshop information, venue, audio and video quality). Further improvement included: “provide PPT”, “provide export guidelines for India if possible”, “sound quality of answering question online”, “include more DF experts and farmers from Taiwan for future events”, “add English subtitle for videos”, “include a keynote addressing global DF industry”.
The project workshop was appreciated and regarded as successful. Most the feedback indicated key takeaway messages from the event. Messages were diverse, including “success stories about farmers”, “experiences-sharing”, “countries like India we have started research work on dragon fruit, and from this workshop I have learned a lot about the overall value chain”, “Data on dragon fruit production from nations”, “organic production”, “It provided me opportunity think more about weak linkages chain and opportunity to rectify them”, “Learning new things”, “GAP guidelines”, “Health and consumer presentation prompted thoughts of future research needs”, “the different technologies, export protocols of participating agencies”, “Cultivation and export potential of dragon fruit for developing countries has wide opportunities”, “An overall understanding of the differences in scale and degree of commercialization of the industries in SE Asia….”.