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November 23, 2011

Fast maturing, disease-resistant papaya introduced in Kenya

A papaya pilot project through a partnership between a horticultural farmers group and a South African drinks company has triggered the rise of a new fruit and market in Kapsabet district of Rift Valley. Farmers are racing to move into the new, fast maturing, disease resistant, dwarf papaya variety called the Red Royale Papaya.

The Tapsigei Farmers Union had a two-year painful courtship with papaya farming, characterised by incessant diseases and stunted growth of the traditional papaya. But in February Fizzle Fit Company, a soft drink making firm from South Africa, pitched tent in the area looking for suppliers of raw papaya. Impressed by the number of farmers in the group and their commitment to horticulture, the company introduced them to a new hybrid papaya seed which they promptly adopted. Eight months later, the farmer group has exported their first batch of the Red Royale papaya to the South African firm, while also delivering fruit into the local market; to hospitals, hotels, and supermarkets.

The farmers, now in their second trial, produced more than Fizzle Fit Company needed. But “just like it is with everything new, locals treated the fruit with suspicion especially due to its somehow reddish colour inside, which they considered strange. But we explained the benefits and even gave free samples for testing. When we next took it to the market, we not only cleared stock but got numerous requests by customers to assist them with seeds,” said Dominic Rono, one of the members of the group.

This has seen the group multiply seeds, packaging them in manageable quantities to sell to local farmers. “This is a revolutionary fruit and we are in the process of approaching the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service to certify our seeds as we plan to distribute them nationally,” he said.

The farm gate price of Red Royale Papaya is Sh200, and Sh250 to large stores. The huge appetite for the fruit has seen farmers strategise to have a constant year-round supply.

They have divided themselves into three groups with each planting at a particular period of the month. Every farmer ploughs back 10 per cent of their earnings into the farmers group to assist colleagues with financial difficulties and save for a processor that the group hopes to buy in two years’ time. The fruit processor will allow the farmers to make and package their own papaya juice as they anticipate the market for Red Royale Papaya will be saturated in a year’s time based on the brisk uptake of the seeds. The group also plans to invest in value addition of the fruit by making salads, drinks, jam, jelly, marmalade, candies and crystallised fruits. “Right now we are selling the seeds at Sh50 for the smallest pack and demand is very high. Locals have seen benefits in terms of sales of the fruit,” said Miriam Cherono, the group’s secretary.

The Red Royale Papaya was first developed by Asia based seed breeder East West Seeds and is short with some of its fruits being less than a foot above the ground, closely bunched, with no gaps between the fruits. On average one tree carries 20 fruits with each weighing between two to 2.5 kilos compared to ordinary papaya trees, which can hold a maximum of 10 fruits. The peel of the fruit, unlike those of ordinary papayas, are mixed with the fruit in making papaya juice and are known to preserve the juice. It takes seven months for a seedling to mature to a ripe fruit, compared to nine months for ordinary papayas. The tree has also demonstrated superior resistance to the notorious Papaya Ring Spot Virus, responsible for over 65 per cent of spoilt papayas on farms. A quarter of an acre can accommodate 30 to 40 papaya trees. Of the many commercial varieties of papaya grown in Kenya, only Red Royale has been reported to also have resistance to Phytophthora palmivora, an equally devastating papaya disease.

Business Daily Africa

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