Yossi Zaphrir was instrumental in the development of the Bilu pitaya range in Israel and the opening up of export markets in Europe and North America 

Yossi Zaphrir, the founder and, until very recently, the hands-on director of Top Eden Fruits in Israel, died last month, aged 93.

Following agricultural studies at UCLA, Zaphrir worked in Israel’s ministry of agriculture, before serving as Agrexco’s representative in Benelux for a number of years.

Yossi Zaphrir

Yossi Zaphrir

He owned a farm, situated about 40km south of Tel Aviv in the village of Kfar Bilu, from which the name of the varieties he developed is derived.

On formally retiring in 1990, Zaphrir turned his attention to pitaya and was at the forefront of varietal development via hybridisation.

He developed Bilu varieties, summer varieties harvested between July and December, working on new clones that target early flowering and a more even spread of flowering to give a steady availability of fruit, longer shelf-life and improved nutritional value (particularly vitamin C and antioxidants).

Zaphrir insisted on calling the fruit by the name pitaya, rather than what he considered the scarier-sounding dragon fruit! He always maintained that the taste of the red/purple-fleshed Bilu varieties were far superior to the white-fleshed dragon fruit originating in Vietnam.

Top Eden gradually increased the area under cultivation, although there were limits due to the acute shortage of the required manual labour.

Zaphrir developed export markets in the UK and continental Europe and, in 2016/17, he was instrumental in opening up the export market in North America.

However, since Covid, exports have significantly declined, and most of the production is consumed on the local market at satisfactory prices.

Even after reaching the age of 90, Zaphrir remained active in his plantation on a daily basis, and was always willing to show visitors and the media his achievements. He will be missed, not only by his extended family, but by the agricultural community in Israel.