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Frequently Asked Questions

What is papaya ringspot virus?

How widespread is the papaya ringspot virus?

When did Hawaii’s farmers begin growing Rainbow papaya?

What is the percentage of acreage of rainbow papaya production in Hawaii?

When will Rainbow papaya be exported to Japan?

Will the Hawaii papaya industry stop exporting Kapoho Solo papaya to Japan?

Is Rainbow papaya safe for the environment?

What benefits does the Rainbow papaya provide to Hawaii’s farmers?


The Rainbow Papaya Story

Hawaii has suffered unprecedented economic losses in papaya production due to the devastating papaya ringspot virus as early as the 1950s on the island of Oahu. Production then moved to the Puna area of the Big Island in the 1960s but by 1997, the virus had almost destroyed the papaya industry, Hawaii’s fifth largest crop.

Production had fallen by nearly 40 percent; farmers were going out of business and Hawaii’s once $17 million papaya industry was struggling for existence and survival. That same year, the U.S. government concluded its regulatory review of a genetically engineered papaya variety named Rainbow, which is resistant to the papaya ringspot virus disease and allowed about 200 small papaya farmers to begin planting the Rainbow papaya.


Puna papaya test field started in 1995.  Yellow plants are papaya ringspot infected;
plants on right are Rainbow papayas.

The Rainbow papaya is an F-1 hybrid variety of papaya produced by crossing Hawaii’s standard yellow-flesh export variety, Kapoho Solo with the red-flesh SunUp, the first genetically engineered papaya with resistance to papaya ringspot virus. Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Hawaii had done research since 1984 to develop this Rainbow variety, which includes a gene that made the papaya plants resistant to the ringspot virus – similar to the way a vaccine makes people immune to disease.

Commercialized in 1998, the Rainbow papaya produced immediate results. Within four years, the genetic improvement had not only stopped the rapid decline of the Hawaii papaya industry, but production had actually returned to levels near where they were before the papaya ringspot virus invasion.


Rainbow papaya field, harvest started in 1999.

Q: What is papaya ringspot virus?

A: Papaya ringspot virus is the most widespread and destructive virus disease of papaya. It belongs to the potyvirus group and is rapidly transmitted by a number of aphid species. There are two types, designated as PRSV-p and PRSV-w. PRSV-p infects papaya and many cucurbits such as squash and melons, while PRSV-w infects many cucurbits but does not infect papaya.

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Q: How widespread is the papaya ringspot virus?

A: Papaya ringspot virus occurs nearly everywhere papaya grows. It has caused severe damage in nearly all the major papaya growing areas of the world, including Brazil, Mexico, India, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, the southern region of China, and Hawaii.

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Q: When did Hawaii’s farmers begin growing Rainbow papaya?

A: Papaya farmers began planting Rainbow papaya in 1998 after a thorough review and approval for food and environmental safety by the U.S. government. Other countries, including Japan, are also finalizing the approval of the Rainbow papaya.

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Q: What is the percentage of acreage of Rainbow papaya production in Hawaii?

A: Approximately 61% of the State’s total bearing acreage is represented by Rainbow papaya. Kapoho Solo being harvested from 20% - as of August 2005.

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Q: When will Rainbow papaya be exported to Japan?

A: Once Japan has completed the food and environmental safety assessments for Rainbow papaya, Rainbow papaya can be exported to Japan.

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Q: Will the Hawaii papaya industry stop exporting Kapoho Solo papaya to Japan?

A: No. The Hawaii papaya industry respects Japanese consumers’ “right to choose”. The Hawaii papaya industry will also continue to supply the Japanese market with premium papaya, including conventionally bred varieties such as Kapoho Solo but will then offer another choice, the beautiful Rainbow papaya.

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Q: Is Rainbow papaya safe for the environment?

A: Yes. Following a thorough assessment, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) determined Rainbow papaya posed no safety concerns for the environment. Rainbow papaya is currently undergoing an environmental review by Japan regulatory officials. Only after Japanese officials have determined Rainbow papaya safe for the environment, will Rainbow papaya be offered in Japan as another choice for the consumer.

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Q: What benefits does the Rainbow papaya provide to Hawaii’s farmers?

A: The Rainbow papaya has given Hawaii’s farmers a second chance to be able to continue growing papaya. Prior to Rainbow papaya, the papaya ringspot virus disease had become so widespread that the Hawaii papaya industry was on the verge of existence and survival. Rainbow papaya offers farmers a choice for effectively producing Hawaii premium papaya in areas where the papaya ringspot virus continues to affect papaya plants.

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