By Shalima Mohammed
Richard Cantillon (1680-1734) – the world’s first economic theorist – brought the role of the entrepreneur to the attention of scholars. He viewed the entrepreneur as one who bears the risk of establishing a creative enterprise by covering the start-up cost and carrying out production before market demand and price are known.
Anand Rameshwar Singh epitomizes Cantillon’s definition of an entrepreneur. He, with his lovely wife, Indira, and ably assisted by his samdhi (daughter’s father-in-law), John, produce dragon fruits at Pioneers Dragon Fruit Market located at Ragoonanan Trace, Rochard Road, Penal in Trinidad. Information on this plant is also contained in the book by Dr. Kumar Mahabir entitled Medicinal and Edible Plants (page 64).
He states that the plant is also called harjor in Bhojpuri Hindi as well as the Night-blooming Cereus of the Cactaceae family. Its botanical name is Hylocereus Lemaire and it is possibly a native of Suriname.
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Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
According to Anand, “A lady in Thailand used the dragon fruit as natural medicine. It helped her child with cerebral palsy who suffered tremendously from constipation, so she began to cultivate it.”
Clinical professor at Boston University, Joan Salge Blake, confirmed that one piece of dragon fruit can contain up to 7g of fiber, about a quarter of the recommended daily intake (25-30g), and such a potent amount will “clean you right out.”
Anand advised that “in Trinidad, a lot of the older folks call it harjor, and traditionally when a new baby was born, a small piece of the plant (a cactus which are widespread parasites on such trees as immortelle and mango), is hung at the door to prevent evil.
Also, older folks would pound the cactus to make a poultice to treat injured parts of the body because it has anti-inflammatory properties.”
In his book, Mahabir states that the “sticky substance is ground with turmeric and applied externally for the healing of sprains, blows and lashes” (page 64).
New-York based nutrition consultant, Keri Gans, confirmed that omega-3s of which the dragon fruit is a rich source is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties that may help to decrease joint pain, the risk for heart disease, and depression. Dragon fruits are rich in fiber, heart-healthy omega 3 and 9 fatty acids as well as magnesium, Vitamin C, iron, and antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene (Pollard, 2020).
How a hobby turned into a business
Anand first encountered dragon fruits in China but was not impressed because the flavor was bland. That he would later come to be known as “the dragon fruit man in Penal” can best be described as one of those odd acts of serendipity.
He shared that “in September of 2017, after having dinner in a little village close to Paramaribo in Suriname, I was served dragon fruit”.
“This red variety was so very sweet that I didn’t believe this was the same dragon fruits that I had eaten in China!”
Red Dragon Fruit
It was so satisfying that he helped himself to more until the platter was clean, and then, “I asked the host for some seeds”.
He did not consider a market, but did it because “I love fruits and I was so excited about cultivating this fruit”!
“I got about 400 seedlings from those seeds. I took care of it from September until March 2018. After that, it was so frustrating trying to grow the seedlings that I just threw them out.”
But his interest was piqued and after research and experimentation, he found that the seedlings took six to 10 years to bear fruit, so he opted instead to try cuttings from Suriname. Out of that grew The Pioneer Dragon Fruit Farm, which according to Anand, “… is no longer a hobby since representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture came down here to find out what we’re doing because we are getting results that nobody else is getting”.
The Pioneer Dragon Fruit Market / Farm grew out of a former cocoa estate that Anand Rameshwar Singh’s wife and he inherited.
He confessed, “I didn’t grow up in agriculture. I lived in San Juan where there were houses everywhere. There was no space to plant. What keeps this Pioneer Dragon Fruit Market going is our passion and drive to experiment. There are many tricks of the trade-in growing this fruit. We get our fruits in five months from our premium plants. Over the years, we’ve been trying different things to figure out what works best.
The [Covid-19] pandemic worked out well for us because it allowed us to expand the farm. A lot of people go into it for the money and they have no passion. But we love this, so that’s the difference!
We spend a lot of time down here. When I come down [to the field] after breakfast, sometimes I don’t go back home until the evening at 5 pm. I miss lunch sometimes. I just get taken up.”
Through trial and error in cultivation, Anand and his small team, including 2 full-time workers, deduced that the plant thrives well on concrete posts.
He admitted, “When you start up you have to factor in a lot of overhead costs. New concrete posts cost a lot of money to erect. The concrete is very porous and when it’s soaked, the roots of the plant can utilize the water as it requires. The roots also cling better to the concrete.”
He confirmed, “From 2019, the plants started to bear fruit so we used to give it away, but then people started to come to purchase. My intention was never to commercialize production. However, as the farm grew, I’ve had to employ people to help with cultivation and maintenance. So in order to pay their salaries, like all the others, I started to sell the fruits.”
Pioneer Dragon Fruit Market / Farm Pioneer has four local competing commercial producers. But by sharing his knowledge, Anand claims to have “helped a lot of people to start up their own dragon fruit farm,” an act of generosity that incurred the angst of his competitors.
He explained, “People who were already in the business came to me very upset, saying that because I share knowledge about cultivation and sell plant cuttings, it would decrease the market for the fruit. But what I am doing is making this product known.
Prior to us spreading the knowledge, people did not know about the dragon fruit or its availability in Trinidad. So I asked them [competitors], what makes you think you could supply enough of this dragon fruit to the whole population? Now my competitors thank me for spreading the word. They mainly wholesale to supermarkets. They don’t really retail because they don’t want people to see their farms.”
A factor that contributes to Anand’s belief that “… we are the most well-known supplier for dragon fruit,” is Pioneer’s unique selling proposition. “It occurred to me that my children experience more joy when they pick their own fruits.
So I said to John, ‘We are no longer going to pick fruits. We will allow fruits to ripen on the vine and invite people to pick their own fruits. When people come here, we direct them to the ripe ones. They pick them. We take pictures. We post them on Facebook, and now people from all over Trinidad come down here for dragon fruit.”
Anand’s emphasis on providing a unique customer experience was acquired from his numerous entrepreneurial pursuits over the years. He started off building houses in partnership with a high school friend and sold insurance on the side. His success in the insurance industry so impressed his friend, who also owned a growing jewelry business, that he was invited to motivate the staff at the jewelry firm.
He saw the virtue in adding jewelry sales to his own repertoire, and with assistance from his friend, he opened his first jewelry store.
He said, “Everybody was curious about who was Anand, but I used to sell on the road. I used to sell on a referral basis to staff members at banks and other companies during their lunchtime. I was a roadman.
I started off with Corning Ware, and I built up a clientele from there.”
His reputation was built on his understanding of people and his willingness to make a deal with his customers to ease the burden of having to pay for a product that they wanted, but could not afford. That method augured well for his latest enterprising venture.