each harvest brings beautiful fruit
The papaya (Carica papaya) is a species of the plant family Caricaceae, made up of 71 varieties of branchless trees that produce large fruit and grow in tropical regions in practically all of the continents. It is considered to be one of the most valuable tropical fruits for its notable medicinal benefits. It is most commonly known by the name of papaya, although in the Dominican Republic it is called “lechosa”. The plant has a branchless trunk with a height of 1.8 to 2.5 meters, in some cases reaching greater height when adequately cultivated. The trunk is crowned by circular-shaped foliage and produces a large and fleshy fruit that generally weighs from 0.5 to 2 kilos, although varieties at times weigh up to 9 kilos.
The papaya is a rich source of antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes (vitamin C), vitamins B folic acid and minerals (potassium and magnesium), as well as fibers. One of its main characteristics is that it is rich in an enzyme called Papain, which aids digestion. Therefore, the papaya in addition to being a good source of vitamins is also a highly digestive fruit.
The first known written mention of the “lechosa”, or papaya, is in Oviedo’s “Natural and General History of the Indies” around the year 1535, in a letter to his sovereign, he wrote about having seen it in the South of Mexico and Central America. Alonso de Valverde brought seeds to what today are Panama and the Dominican Republic, where the natives called it papaya. In the early days of the conquest, it was quickly distributed throughout the Antilles and South America. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Spanish and Portuguese sailors took this plant to several territories, among them: the Philippines, Malaysia, South of China, Ceylon and Hawaii. It is a species that has developed very well in every tropical and sub-tropical zone in the world.
Humidity and heat, characteristics of tropical and sub-tropical zones, are essential conditions for the growth of papaya. It re- quires areas with an average rainfall of 1,800 millimeters per year and an annual average temperature between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, although it is able to resist higher temperatures. It should not be cultivated in areas prone to low temperatures since this would cause the plant to die. Also, the plant develops in any type of soil that is exposed to light, is rich in humus, soft, deep and has permeability. The pH must range between 6.2 and 6.8.
Among all the species, the Solo papaya, has a yellow or salmon-colored pulp, is the most marketable and has a very sweet pulp. According to size and shape, it is classified as: Hawaiian type, the most exported and consumed worldwide. This has a pear shape and weighs approximately half a kilo. The fruit’s pulp is clearly yellow when it ripens. There is also the Mexican type, which is larger and has a more elongated form, and can weigh up to 4 kilos and measure almost 40 centimeters in length. The pulp may be yellow, orange or salmon color.
Papaya planting and production in the Dominican Republic
The main papaya varieties cultivated in the Dominican Republic are: Cartagena or Criolla, Solo, Tainung and Red Lady; the latter is greatly sought after by the external market. Traditionally, the Cartagena has been the most highly used among Dominican produc- ers, due to sales in the domestic market. The fruit is eaten fresh and enjoyed in juices and the preparation of preserves and sweets.
The most important papaya production area in the country is in the southern and southeastern regions, where approximately 40% of national production is grown. Peravia province has traditionally been the mainstay of papaya production, particularly the Criolla (Creole) or Cartagena varieties. The East is another important region and, recently, large areas in the Northeast have begun growing papaya. Other important production locations are San Rafael de Yuma, La Romana, Higuey, Azua, Santiago and Valverde. According to official figures, by 2011 there were approximately 2,487 hectares planted with papayas, (similar to the area data we had 10 years ago, although with a higher level of overall yield). During that recent period, these harvested hectares produced close to 393,182 quintals.