The Sunday Mail
HEALTH and well-being are now among the foremost factors influencing food and beverage consumption choices in 2021.
Much of the discourse in consumer circles now centres around the production and consumption of immunity-boosting foods.
This is partly a direct response to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed over 4,5 million lives since its onset in 2020.
Demand for Vitamin C-rich foods is increasing.
Fruits rich in the nutrient are being consumed at an increasing rate as consumers resort to natural methods to shield themselves from the deadly pandemic.
The pawpaw, also known papaya, is one such fruit whose demand is increasing steadily.
Data on Trade Map shows that the global import bill of the pawpaw fruit has increased from US$251 million recorded in 2011 to US$346 million in 2020.
Although the import bill might appear unimpressive compared to other horticultural products such as macadamia and tea, the average value of the pawpaw has been growing over the years.
Currently, top importers are the United States of America, Germany, Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.
Already, the Netherlands and the UK are the largest importers of Zimbabwean-grown fresh produce.
Local farmers can ride on this already existing market in order to introduce pawpaw fruit into these markets.
The United Arab Emirates is also emerging as a potential market for the pawpaw fruit which local producers can consider.
Apart from these international markets, local farmers can also target regional markets such as South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.
As local pawpaw farmers explore the possibility of supplying the European market, they should consider distinguishing themselves through supplying excellent quality, multiple pawpaw varieties and ensuring supply security.
This will help them compete with leading producers and suppliers from Brazil, Mexico and Spain among others.
Pawpaw (Carica pawpaw) is a large, herbaceous, tropical fruit with a high nutritive and medicinal value.
It is fast becoming a much sought-after exotic fruit like the mango.
Cultivation of pawpaw has its origins in South Mexico and Costa Rica.
It has, however, spread throughout the tropical world and to the warmer parts of the subtropics.
This is because the pawpaw grows best in hot areas.
While they can grow in most soils, they must be adequately drained because poor soil drainage promotes root diseases.
Zimbabwe has ideal weather conditions for the cultivation of the pawpaw fruit.
Production of the fruit is possible in low lying areas such as Kariba, the Zambezi Valley and the Limpopo throughout the year.
Pawpaw fruits grow best in areas with lots of sunlight and need above average rainfall, meaning irrigation may be necessary.
Pawpaw is grown from fresh or dry seeds, which are sown either in containers or directly into the ground.
There are a few suppliers of pawpaw seed in Zimbabwe, and they usually help with cultivation of the fruit right up to harvesting.
Pawpaw trees are prone to the black leafspot disease, so it is important for farmers to identify seed suppliers who have expertise and capacity to deal with such challenges.
The pawpaw fruit bruises easily when ripe and has a low shelf life of between 21-28 days within the cold chain.
This has an impact on logistics.
In most cases, air freight is the most common means of transporting the fruit to European markets because it is faster.
This, however, affects the final price.
There is room for development of methods to better preserve the fruit for longer periods when moving over longer distances in order to make shipping via the sea a viable option.
However, these must not impact on the quality and taste of the product, as well as the health and well-being of final consumers.
Innovation will increase earnings
While the pawpaw is gaining in popularity, it faces stiff competition from other well-known tropical fruits such as mangoes and pineapples which offer similar benefits.
The potential for growth of pawpaw production can be harnessed by creating ready-to-eat snack portions and by using exceptional and highly attractive packaging.
Perishability of the fruit is reflected in its high cost, and innovative marketing must be employed in order to increase its appeal.
In addition, harvest losses are estimated at between 5-30 percent of production.
There is, however, scope for processing pawpaw fruits into value added products to curtail these losses.
Various products such as jam, jelly, candy, nectar, puree, concentrate slab, toffee, pawpaw squash, freeze-dried chunks, dried rolls, dried slices and pickles and sauce can be prepared.
There is also room to produce pawpaw extracts that are used in pharmaceuticals and in cosmetics.
The numerous possibilities post-harvest, and Zimbabwe’s ideal weather conditions, augur well for the large-scale local production of the pawpaw for the export market.
Supplying high quality pawpaw fruit is critical for export success, and the need to fulfil legal and non-legal requirements should not deter local producers from entering the European market.
Rather, the establishment of long-term relationships with buyers in Europe, Middle- East and African markets will ensure sustained supply.
Local farmers who want to tap into the emerging export market for pawpaws are encouraged to utilise the services offered by ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, particularly on market linkages and capacity development.
Recently, ZimTrade facilitated for local fresh fruit and vegetables exporters to participate at the Macfrut 2021 in Italy where potential buyers indicated willingness to import from Zimbabwe.
Potential buyers indicated that farmers who wish to be integrated into their networks should produce a high-quality product and match the competition’s price.
To help improve the quality, ZimTrade can facilitate for local farmers to be trained by senior experts from Netherlands-based PUM, who can offer production insights that will help in improving the quality of the Zimbabwe-grown pawpaw.
Allan Majuru is the ZimTrade chief executive.