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Plan for National Papaya Board advances

Homero Levy de Barros has been around papayas his entire life. As a child growing up in Brazil, he ate them almost daily. Now as president of a tropical fruit company that bills itself as a papaya specialist, he sells them by the container. So there is very little he doesn’t know about the fruit.

And one thing he does know is that papayas have a much greater potential than they are currently realizing in the United States.Papayas-on-packing-beltA new National Papaya Board, modeled after the success of the National Mango Board and the National Watermelon Promotion Board, will be under consideration at an Oct. 23 meeting in Atlanta during the PMA Fresh Summit.

“The key is to better educate everyone in the supply chain, as well as consumers, about the many benefits of this fruit,” said Levy de Barros, who founded his company, HLB, 26 years ago in Germany and opened HLB USA in Florida 17 years ago.

He has long wanted to collaborate with other papaya grower-shipper-importers to exchange ideas for the betterment of the papaya industry, but prior efforts proved fruitless.levyHomero Levy de Barros

Now, based on the success of boards formed for commodities such as avocados, watermelons and mangos, Levy de Barros is making a push to form a similar board for papayas, and he has enlisted William Watson to help guide the effort.

Watson, a former executive director of the National Watermelon Promotion Board and the National Mango Board, who now runs a consultancy called The Fresh Approach that specializes in working with commodity boards, will lead a meeting of the papaya industry at the upcoming Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention in Atlanta, with the ultimate goal of forming a National Papaya Board.watsonWilliam Watson

“The idea is to mirror what William did with the watermelon and mango boards,” said Levy de Barros. “Because of their success, I have always thought that we could do the same for papayas. If we get everyone together, we could raise awareness for this wonderful fruit. The potential is tremendous for increasing papaya sales.”

Watson said he is energized by the opportunity to help the papaya industry form a board.

“It’s really kind of fun to get all those growers and importers into a room and help them get together to better handle their product,” said Watson.

In laying out a framework for the formation of a board, Watson said the first step is to get the industry together to see if there is interest. Provided there is industry support, he said the industry will have to decide if they want a research and promotion board or a voluntary option, which will be discussed at the meeting in Atlanta.

A research and promotion board has the authority to collect money through assessments for the purpose of researching or promoting the commodity, but it differs from a marketing order in that it cannot enforce grade standards.

“If they choose to form a board, the government will want to see that the industry is organized and it’s not just one or two growers behind the effort,” said Watson. “The government also wants to see a diversity of interests involved in the papaya industry. It will be important for us to get USDA on our side because the industry will have to make a proposal at some point to make this happen.”

He said the proposal would include such information as the assessment rate, the number of members on the board and what will be done with the money that is collected. USDA will look at the proposal and likely come back with a number of questions, said Watson. Once the questions have been addressed, the proposal will be published in the Federal Register and be open for comments from the industry. Provided there is sufficient support, a referendum will be held and the future of the board will be determined.

“The beauty of a board like this is that the industry can shape it any way it wants,” said Watson. “If there is enough support through the referendum, then the industry can start collecting assessments, manage industry resources and promote papayas.”

Regarding the timetable for the formation of a board, Watson said he has seen it take anywhere from 18-24 months up to five years.

“But I think that is something I can help with,” he said. “It is a relatively small core of people involved, and I think we can move things along pretty quickly. The one main challenge I see is that depending on when things start to advance, we will be working with an outgoing [presidential] administration or a new administration, and this will likely not be a priority for either.”

“I contacted a number of growers and importers and all thought it was a great idea,” said Levy de Barros. “I can only see this as a win-win situation for all involved with papayas. We want to create demand with stable prices so we can avoid the valleys by maintaining steady consumption. William knows how to navigate through the labyrinth of bureaucracy, and I am very excited that this will begin a new chapter in papaya history.”

Watson said the meeting would be held Friday, Oct. 23, at 1 p.m. in room B202 in the Georgia World Congress Center.

Levy de Barros encourages those who cannot attend the meeting to visit him in the HLB Specialties booth (No. 2069) during Fresh Summit or email him at for more information.