Remembering Len Hobson

Len Hobson, who died recently at the age of 87, introduced papayas from Hawaii to South Africa in the late 1960s and became a recognised authority on subtropical fruit and macadamia nuts.

He was not afraid to take the lead with new ideas in a sector known for its often conservative approach to innovation. Len was born in the Karoo town of Aberdeen and obtained his agricultural degree at Rhodes University. Despite his Eastern Cape lineage – his family went back to the 1820 Settlers – he moved to the lush Letsitele valley near Tzaneen in Limpopo to farm citrus, subtropical fruit and bananas.

The ‘papino’
He had an independent spirit and love of all things horticultural. He visited Hawaii and returned with papaya seeds, which he started propagating on the farm. With papayas, he realised he had found a fruit sweeter and better to eat than the traditional pawpaw. The introduction of the papaya was not without its difficulties. Len struggled initially to get the quaility right and convince a conservative marketplace to try out the new fruit. But his flair for marketing soon became evident.

He introduced his own carton and undertook the expensive business of promoting his ‘Papino’ brand in stores and on markets. This was in the early 1970s, when marketing boards reigned supreme and individual farmers did not bother with marketing matters. In time, though, the papaya became the more accepted fruit as it overtook the pawpaw in popularity and today is by far the more popular choice amongst consumers. So successful was Len’s marketing that people still refer to papayas as ‘papinos’.

New challenges
Len’s love of horticulture meant he was constantly seeking new challenges and expanding his own knowledge. He became involved in macadamia nuts and up to his death was acknowledged as a top consultant in that field. I cannot do full justice in the space available to everything that Len Hobson did for agriculture in this country. Suffice to say that all started 50 years ago with a few seeds and the vision and determination of a great pioneer.