Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Increasing Demand for Papaya

           Health conscious Filipinos among middle class households are trying to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables as they eat rice and other carbohydrates with greater moderation.  Among the fruits in which the Philippines is already a top provider both for local and foreign consumption are bananas, pineapples and mangos.  As Agribusiness Specialist Ditas R. Macabasco of the Center for Food and Agribusiness of the University of Asia and the Pacific wrote in an article entitled “A Pick of the Philippine Fruit Industry,”  the local fruit industry is a multi-billion peso sector, dominated by three crops—banana, pineapple and mango—whose value of production reached over P145 billion in 2012 and P153 billion in 2013.  The first two alone raked in over US$1 billion in export earnings.  The other fresh fruits that Filipino consumers are increasingly including in their diets are calamansi, durian, lanzones, mandarin, mangosteen, orange, papaya, rambutan, tamarind, melon and watermelon.  Aggregate production of fruits in 2013 totaled 12.5 million tons.

          Except for banana and pineapple, fresh fruits are usually grown in small farms, with scarce use of advanced technology.  There is an opportunity for families in the urban centers of Metro Manila, CALARZON and Central Luzon who still have small portions of arable land to provide for the demand for papaya, one of the leading health products, among the twenty million consumers residing in these regions.   I am referring to the possibility of “urban gardening” for retired professionals and others who would like be part of the supply chain in this expanding market for fresh fruits in the domestic market.  I am thinking not only of the middle-income households where papaya is increasingly a staple in the breakfast table or for dessert in any meal, but also the hundreds of hotels and restaurants—big and small—that are mushrooming in these urban or “rurban” areas. 

          To help me on this advocacy for urban gardening for profit, I asked my friend Toto Barcelona, founder of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, a high-tech enterprise adapting Taiwanese agribusiness technology to the Philippines.  He tells me that papaya can be grown in almost all parts of the Philippines.  The right temperature is 25 to 32 degrees Celsius and suitable pH value is from 6.0 to 6.5.  Well-drained or sandy loam soil with adequate organic matter is most important in papaya cultivation.  In high rainfall areas, poor drainage and continuous soaking of the roots form 24 to 45 hours may cause the death of the plants.  The growing field should be irrigable with suitable soil moisture.  The papaya tree requires full sunlight.

          Through the years, papaya became the subject of plant breeders because of its nutritional as well as industrial value.  Papein from the fruit has many industrial uses, mainly as meat tenderizer as well as a raw material for cosmetics.  Breeders, especially in Taiwan in the last century, developed F1-hybrid varieties tolerant to the papaya ring-spot virus.  Known-You Seed Company of Taiwan and the Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Research Station in Taiwan were at  the forefront of this research activity.  Thanks to the efforts of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, this Taiwanese technology has been brought to numerous regions of the Philippines with the introduction of the high-yielding, great tasting Red Lady F1-hybrid variety.   Plants begin to bear fruit at 60-80 cm. height (about 6 to 7 months after planting) and have over 50 fruits per plant in each fruiting season.  Its productive commercial life is 2 years.  Red Lady papaya, besides being eaten fresh, can be used for cooking as well as countless recipes for dessert and health drinks.  Papaya is rich in vitamins A and C as well as potassium.  It also has small amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin and has low calorie and low sodium content.  In Taiwan, the 500cc papaya shake, blended chilled papaya mixed with milk, became a national health drink for many years.  Using the technology provided by Harbest, farmers in arable areas surrounding urban centers have made a net income of about P80,000 for every 1,000 sq.m. planted to papaya every fruiting season. 

          Harbest has training programs for those who want to adopt its technology, not only for papaya but for other marketable fruits and vegetables like sweet corn, water melon, seedless water melon, honeydew melon, squash, ampalaya, cucumber, eggplant, tomato, hot pepper, bell pepper and okra.  For each of these crops, there is a template arising from years of experiences and experimentation indicating land and seed preparation, fertilization, protection for insects and pests, and other cultivation practices that are relatively easy to implement even among part-time farmers.  Those who would like to cash in on the increasing demand for papaya in urban centers may contact Harbest Agribusiness Corporation through email or Tel. No. 671-7411 or 0917 520 3260.  Small-scale agribusiness can be profitable. especially for the families of overseas Filipino workers or for the returning OFWs who are looking for ways of investing part of their savings in the sunrise industry that is found in supplying fresh vegetables and fruits to the middle-income households. Once again, here is another demonstration that a growing and young population can be a tremendous asset to the national economy. For comments, my email address is