“The fact that the Japanese have tested it to the nth degree and evaluated its food and environmental safety proves it’s a good product,” said Rod Yonemura, consultant to the 160-member Hawaii Papaya Industry Association based in Hilo, capital of Hawaii’s Big Island.
The Dec. 5 shipment consisted of 1,248 5-pound cases for sale and 32 cases for sampling at Coastco Japan, Yonemura said.
Hawaii, the only U.S. state to produce papaya commercially, turned to genetic modification in the 1990s to save its industry from being wiped out by the papaya ringspot virus, which is transmitted by aphids and threatens papayas around the world.
To introduce the Rainbow to Japanese traders, Yonemura said HPIA is planning a booth at the Super Market Trade Show in Tokyo Feb. 1-3, and another at Foodex Japan in Chiba March 8-9.
The pear-shaped hybrid with the short neck and orange-yellow flesh, now makes up close to 80% of the island’s 1,425-acre crop. Most farms average three to 10 acres in size.
On a “reverse trade mission” for about a dozen mainland and Canadian importers before Christmas, Japanese-born Toshihisa Aoki, president of Hawaiian Fresh Products Inc., showed off the computer-controlled vapor heat chamber where skids of papayas spend about five hours to ensure they’re free of fruit flies and other pests before shipping to Japan and the mainland.
In 2010, Yonemura said Hawaii produced an estimated 12,519 metric tons of papayas, with a value of $10,450,000.
Of that number, an estimated 7,671 metric tons were exported to the mainland, 1,768 tons to Canada and 849 tons to Japan.
He said promotional efforts, which include joining Hawaii’s coffee and cut flower associations for a major lifestyle marketing campaign, aim to double papaya exports in the next five years.
Kenneth Kamiya, president of Kamiya Farm Inc., said the state’s production costs are prohibitive since all farming material must be imported, and labor costs can’t compete with those of developing countries.
Hawaii’s lush, wet environment also works against growers, Kamiya said. The isolated island chain is a magnet for invasive pests with no natural predators, there’s no winter and no dormant period, and chemicals must be rotated so pests don’t become immune to them.
Kicking at the rocky and uneven black volcanic soil on a small plantation in Keaau, along the island’s east coast, shipper Peter Houle, president of Hawaiian Rainbow Produce, demonstrated why it’s impossible to mechanize the island’s papaya harvest.