Dragon fruit exports continue to fall amid intense competition

By Thi Ha   May 15, 2023 | 03:12 pm PT
Vietnamese dragon fruit exporters are expected to have another difficult year as more countries grow the fruit and make the international market increasingly competitive.

According to the General Department of Customs, Vietnam’s exports have been plummeting since 2019.

In 2021 and 2022 it did not make the list of billion-dollar export items. In fact last year dragon fruit exports were worth only US$632 million, a 39% decline from 2021 and 49% drop from their 2019 peak.

In the first two months this year exports were worth only $106 million, a 26.9% year-on-year decline.

Hoa, a trader in Binh Thuan Province, said since January exports have been meager.

"We used to ship dozens of tons a day, but now it’s only half of that", she said.

Vietnam exports the fruit to over 15 countries and territories, including to markets that set quality standards high for imports such as the U.S., Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.

Vietnam used to account for 80-90% of global shipments in the past, but with many countries starting to grow and export it, competition has become very intense, causing its share to fall dramatically.

Nguyen Dinh Tung, CEO of Vina T&T Import and Export Company, said China is now growing the fruit and so is not importing, including from Vietnam, even after reopening.

At the end of February China announced that it had harvested 1.6 million tons of dragon fruit, 200,000 tons more than Vietnam’s output and nearly meeting its annual demand of two million tons.

India has also successfully grown the fruit. Its government has recently set a target of increasing the area under it from 3,000 hectares now to 50,000 ha in the next five years.

Mexico has become another rival, grabbing a share of Vietnam’s exports to key markets like the U.S. and Canada.

Tung said Vietnam no longer exports white-flesh dragon fruit to these markets, and only ships red-flesh ones since Mexico does not grow them yet.

India and China are exporting large volumes of the fruit.

There is even the risk of imports taking over the Vietnamese market since they are cheaper.

Dragon fruit harvest at a garden in Binh Thuan Province. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc

Dragon fruit being harvested at an orchard in Binh Thuan Province. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc

In light of the competition from India and China, Dang Phuc Nguyen, general secretary of the Vietnam Vegetable Association, said farmers and businesses need to reassess the market to find appropriate strategies.

One of the key strategies is choosing the appropriate time for cultivation to take advantage of periods when India and China cannot grow the fruit.

For instance, the long winters in China are unsuitable for growing the fruit, and so Vietnamese farmers should time their harvests for the beginning and end of the year.

Tung agreed, saying local authorities need to inform farmers in time so that they could prepare and cultivate accordingly.

He also called for growing more red-flesh dragon fruit since it is hard to be grown in other countries and to focus on deep processing of the fruits.

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