HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

Pawpaw heat treatment trials underway

Nita growers around the island will be pleased to know that the Ministry of Agriculture is currently in preparation to resume the export of pawpaw to the New Zealand Market.
Dr. Michael Williamson from Quarantine Technologies in New Zealand is currently in Rarotonga on a Foreign Aid funded visit to conduct trials for the heat treatment of pawpaws.
The first trial was conducted yesterday afternoon at the Heat Treatment Plant based at the airport. The main objective of the trial was to identify any faults within the machine, which would enable Williamson to make the necessary repairs in order for the facility to qualify for certification. While the trial was successful, Williamson advised that for safety purposes, at least four more tests still need to be conducted.
An urgent meeting for Nita growers was held this morning at the same venue. Dr. Michael Williamson and Dr. Matairangi Purea, together with the Minister of Agriculture Nandi Glassie, delivered a presentation on the status of today’s pawpaw industry, the heat treatment plant, and the future of our pawpaw export to the New Zealand Market.
Those who attended the meeting were advised that once exports commence, nita growers could deliver their harvest to the plant where they will be paid in cash, before their products are heated and exported to the New Zealand Market.
While countries such as Fiji treat crops including eggplants, chili, breadfruit and mango, Williamson confirmed that at this point of time, the Cook Islands would be focusing only on the treatment and export of pawpaws, as there is a large demand for the variety we grow.
“It is unique to Rarotonga. No one else grows it, so you’ll have a niche market,” said Williamson.
To ensure that the industry thrives successfully, he recommended that it be privatized, and that products be exported on a regular basis.
“Fiji exports 10 tonnes of pawpaw a week. We need to follow the same idea,” he urged.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Nandie Glassie, the common term ‘Nita’ is unrecognized by the New Zealand market. As such, he has decided that it be identified as ‘Raro Pawpaw.’
According to Williamson, the Cook Islands are very fortunate to be in possession of these machines as they are worth close to $180,000. This includes installation costs, software programming, and so forth.
20 years ago, the New Zealand Foreign Aid built this machine after a design developed in Hawaii. It was gifted to the Cook Islands where it ran for 2 years. Unfortunately, due to the irregularity of exports to the overseas market, the treatment plant was forced to shut down. It was later leased to Steve Anderson who ran the plant successfully for 3 years.
“He ran it as a private business and he ran it very well,” said Williamson.
The heat treatment facility rejects the use of chemicals, relying solely on heat to prevent the spread of unwanted pests such as fruit flies. Williamson informed the Cook Islands Herald that the process would sweeten the fruit, thus improving the quality of the product. He also advised that the amount of treated pawpaw to be exported could not be confirmed until the conclusion of the trial period.

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- News Briefs

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