Dragon fruit or pitaya is a crop of increasing importance in Southeast Asian countries. The crop has many characteristics that make it attractive to smallholder intensive farming systems, which include ease of propagation and establishment, relatively low maintenance costs, potentially high yields, and a strong export potential. But as with many ‘new’ crops, growers and technologists in all countries are on a learning curve to understand how to best manage the crop, and to mitigate threats related to agronomic practices, postharvest handling, and pests and diseases.
Many research institutions and universities within the region have research programs aimed at resolving these problems for growers. However, most are operating in isolation from one another, often on limited budgets and with no mechanism for information sharing. With the current small, dispersed, isolated, country-focused research programs, progress is inevitably slow.
It is in this light that Mekong Institute (MI), alongside the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center (FFTC) for the Asian and Pacific region, New Zealand Plant & Food Research, and the International Tropical Fruits Network (TFNet), are organizing the Regional Workshop on the Control of Dragon Fruit Diseases at the Mekong Institute Residential Training Center, Khon Kaen, Thailand, from September 5-7.
With 24 participants from nine countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam – attending the event, the workshop aims to bring together key researchers and technologists on dragon fruit diseases from within the region; share the current state of knowledge of dragon fruit diseases in the different countries; identify the priority research questions on dragon fruit diseases; identify the key institutes, universities and researchers engaged in dragon fruit disease research within the region; and establish an informal network committed to information sharing, develop collaborative research programs, and prepare joint proposals for research funding.
Speaking at the Opening Ceremony, Dr. Watcharas Leelawath, Executive Director of MI, briefly explained the kind of work that MI does, with focus on the three thematic areas of the institute. He also mentioned about the Food Safety Project that the Agricultural Development and Commercialization (ADC) Department of MI is currently implementing, which he related to the workshop’s topic of dragon fruit diseases.
Meanwhile, a Welcome Remarks was also delivered by. Dr. Yu-Tsai Huang, Director of FFTC. He emphasized the importance of dragon fruit as an emerging crop with high export potential, as well as issues and concerns related to its production. He then encouraged all countries present to listen to each other’s needs and collaborate, so that together, they can pose effective solutions to these problems.
On the other hand, Mr. John Campbell, Quality Systems Coordinator for the New Zealand Plant & Food Research, highlighted their organization’s project in Vietnam during his Opening Remarks. He mentioned that their organization focuses on improving dragon fruit production in Vietnam, as well as controlling diseases threatening them at the production stage. This workshop, he further stated, is an excellent venue to build professional contacts among experts in the field.
Finally, Dr. Mohd Desa Haji Hassim, CEO of TFNet, gave the last Opening Remarks for the morning. In his speech, he was able to outline briefly the work that TFNet does regarding tropical fruits, and its relation to the UN Sustainable Goal of combating hunger and poverty.
This regional workshop is a follow-up to the international workshop on “Improving Pitaya Production and Marketing” held Sept. 7-9 last year in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where the participants concurred that a mechanism for more rapid and efficient sharing of regional knowledge and capability, as well as for undertaking cross country collaborative research, would significantly increase both the cost efficiency and the rate of progress of most research programs on dragon fruit.