by Rudolf Mulderij, Fresh Plaza

The drought in Brazil is causing a worldwide shortage. In Europe and the United States, the supply is falling and prices are on the rise. This is a bad situation, given the growing popularity of the fruit. Central America is a major papaya production area. Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico are some of the main growers. In Ghana, drought conditions have been playing tricks on the producers. India is a major producer, but its fruit is mainly intended for the domestic market. Relative newcomers include Israel and Spain. In the latter, the sector foresees plenty of potential for this crop.

Drought disastrous for Brazil

Due to the drought caused by El Niño, shortages are expected in the supply of papayas from Brazil. Large farms are reporting serious losses in their production. The three main causes are heat, drought and the start of winter. One company reported a loss of up to 50% and much smaller calibres than usual. Besides, due to the fact that there has not been enough rainfall, the reservoirs have not been sufficiently replenished. This situation has pushed papaya prices up in the domestic market. In some regions, the fruit has become three times more expensive than normal.

Belize is losing ground

The cultivation of Taining papayas has declined in recent years. Until three years ago, Belize was the largest supplier of this papaya variety to the US. After holding a leading position in the global papaya production over the last thirty years, the country is also against its own limits. There is little land available for the fruit’s cultivation and labour costs are higher than in neighbouring countries. Thereby, the Central American country has been losing ground.

Guatemala, the largest exporter

The country has made considerable investments in papaya cultivation, leaving Belize behind. Guatemala is now officially the largest exporter of this tropical fruit.

Costa Rica invests in niches

Compared to other countries in Central America, Costa Rica is a small player in the papaya market. One of the varieties it grows is the Pococí, which is exported to Canada. This variety is unique to Costa Rica and its seeds are supplied by the National University and the Ministry of Agriculture. The variety is sweet and slightly firmer than the Maradol from Mexico or Brazil. It is also very popular amongst Canadian consumers. The country exports mainly to Canada and is not very interested in the European market, as shipping times to Europe are much longer. Furthermore, Canada is a large consumer of papayas, especially among Latin American and Asian immigrants. The season will start in two to three months.

Tests are underway with a new variety, the Candy. It is a small variety (400-500 gram) with a sweet flavour. The results so far have been positive, so it could have a lot of potential. Because of the country’s small area, a lot of investments are going to niches and innovations, according to a trader.

Major producer India grows mainly for domestic market

With a market share of 38.6 percent (2008-2010), India is a major producer of papayas; yet, only a small part is exported. The price on the world market and the growing demand in the domestic market motivates traders to look primarily to the domestic market. Thanks to its young population and the rising incomes, the domestic market ensures much potential. Demand peaks especially between October and March.

Over the past three to five years, production has increased by 50 percent, says a trader. The challenges come when out of season, as demand drops and processors demand fewer papayas; prices then are also under pressure.

Difficult season for Ghana

Between April and August is the low season for the Ghanaian papaya sector. The peak is recorded between September and March. This season has been extremely dry and the volumes are small, partly due to lack of irrigation systems. It has also been really hot, with temperatures of 39 and 40 degrees Celsius. Last year, there was a better season, with temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius. Most of the production stays in the African country, with only five percent intended for export. The middle class and above are the fruit’s main customers.

Israel invests in innovations for papaya cultivation

Papayas were brought decades ago to Israel by both Israeli travellers and Thai guest workers. And although the plant generally needs a tropical climate, some growers discovered that the plant could adapt to Israel’s weather conditions. Today, there is some cultivation, especially in greenhouses in the coastal areas, where papayas are grown year-round.

The papaya market is barely developed due to the limited local supply. Also, there is very little demand from wholesalers; therefore, prices stand at around 4.40 Euro per kilo.

Despite the low domestic demand, growers have succeeded in exporting to Europe. Furthermore, the country is investing in the breeding of new varieties that are better suited to the local climate. An example is the Aurora, the first seedless papaya, which received the Fruit Logistica Innovation Award 2015. This papaya is marketed in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

Spanish growers see papayas as an alternative to vegetables

In the Canary Islands, papayas have already been grown for some time. Additionally, Anecoop has been making investments over the past six years to get the production off the ground. Growers in Andalusia see the cultivation of papayas as a good alternative to vegetables. This season, Anecoop expects to harvest 1.5 million kilos of papayas in the regions of Malaga, Granada (Motril), Almeria and Murcia (Mazarron). In the coming years, the cultivation of Spanish papayas is expected to increase. The most common varieties are the Formosa and Intenzza. Almeria is in an especially good position. The region is able to reach the market earlier than other producers, including Mexico, India, Brazil and Colombia, according to researchers.

Norway opts for ready-to-eat

In Norway, papayas are gaining popularity amongst consumers. The fruit is widely used in breakfasts and salads, but it is still not as popular as summer fruit. Just like with mangoes and avocados, Norwegian consumers prefer ready-to-eat papayas.

The bulk of the supply comes from Brazil, but some also arrives from Ecuador. Transport by sea is difficult. There are often problems with the ripening or quality issues affecting the taste. Furthermore, it has also proven difficult to ripen the papayas in European ripening chambers; therefore, most of the supply is allowed to ripen on the tree and is then shipped by air.

Russia: Papayas for the rich

Papayas are a relative newcomer to the Russian market and are still unknown to the average consumer. Thailand is a major supplier, but an importer says that there are only two companies, out of 5,000, which purchase the fruit. Their main customers are hotels and restaurants. On the Russian market, papayas compete against more traditional fruits, like apples, cherries and strawberries. It is mainly immigrants who are pushing up the demand for papayas. Additionally, the fruit is popular amongst wealthy women, who are willing to spend money on some small luxuries. Prices stand at around 400 roubles (6.15 dollars) per kilo, compared to the 50 roubles (0.77 dollars) of a kilo of apples.

High prices in France

The price paid for papayas is higher than two months ago. Back then, the fruit cost around three Euro per kilo, but now it reaches four Euro per kilo. The reason for this is the impact of drought in Brazil. Demand for tropical fruits has increased steadily in recent years. The peak in consumption is recorded in the autumn, winter and spring, when there is no competition with strawberries, cherries and peaches. However, papayas are still considered a niche product, mostly successful in the major cities, where there are immigrants who are familiar with the fruit and help boost demand for it. Since the fruit is largely unknown, there is little knowledge about it amongst consumers. This means there are fewer ready-to-eat programs than, for example, for mangoes and avocados.

Shortage in Belgium

Even though papayas are usually available all year round, they are currently in short supply, consequently driving prices up. This is due to the lower supply from Brazil, where the impact of El Niño has been significant. The shortages started in mid-April and are expected to continue until August. An importer explains that they mostly import the varieties Formosa and Golden.

The demand for papayas and ready-to-eat papayas is on the rise; therefore, importers are in a difficult situation, with growing demand and low supply. Imports from other countries, such as Jamaica, are possible, but also disappointing. Imports from Ghana have been tested, but the supply volumes were too unstable.

Papayas gaining ground in the Netherlands

Papayas are not only becoming more popular in the southern countries, but also in north Western Europe. The fruit’s growing demand is piggybacking on healthy eating trends. Papayas are gradually being included in the standard fruit range of retailers. The main supplier is Brazil, but the largest markets are located outside Europe. The US and Japan are two of the fruit’s major destinations.

The fruit’s transport requires a lot of care because of the sensitivity of the product. Besides, papayas are not resistant to rain. Extreme weather conditions in Brazil and Central America often have a negative impact on the crops, so their availability is regularly compromised.

Low supply in the US

The supply of Golden papayas from Brazil is declining, and because of the growing demand, other varieties are taking over its dominant market position. A major importer says that their Golden supply has dropped by 70 percent. As a result, prices are high. On 17 May, a 3.5 kilo box (size 9) cost between 12 and 13 dollars in the ports of South Florida. The low supply is expected to continue until July.

The situation for Taining papayas is stable. On 17 May, the price for a 35-pound box (size 8 ) in Guatemala oscillated between 20 and 21 dollars. The bulk of the supply comes from Guatemala and Belize.

During the summer months, supermarkets prefer to promote summer fruit in stores. Papayas, unlike local summer fruit, are available all year round. Despite this, consumption is on the rise. Latin American immigrants, who are familiar with the fruit, are still the largest group of consumers.

Source: Fresh Plaza

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