Government has taken measures to increase apple production by setting up a centre to produce plantlets thus paving way for lower prices of the fruit that is presently out of reach for most people.
While the cost of several popular varieties of fresh fruits are relatively high, apples command higher prices with one fruit going for Rwf400 at most retail outlets and Rwf350 at markets countrywide.
As one of the key steps increase production, apple fruit seedlings were imported with experimentation already ongoing within different research centres spread across the country.
Last year, 391,857 tonnes of apples valued at Rwf231million were imported into the country mainly from South Africa.
According to Epimaque Nsanzabaganwa, the head of Horticulture Production Division at the National Agricultural Export Development Board, in 2010, government through the Rwanda Horticulture Development Authority (RHODA) imported and planted apple seeds on 10 hectares of land. He added that last year, they similarly imported cuttings from Kabare, Uganda that were planted on 20 hectares of land in Gicumbi District.
“The two varieties on trial have proved that it is possible to grow apples under the Rwandan temperatures but we are still monitoring their adaptability in different parts of the country,” Nsanzabaganwa said.
The varieties under experimentation in the country are Anna and Dorset Golden, which are typically grown in other tropical countries including neighbouring Uganda.
“Anna and Dorset Golden are normally better at 1,500 metres above sea level and most parts of our country are in that range of altitude especially in the North, South and Western parts,” he said.
Research shows that the two varieties take a shorter time to blossom, usually two years, in tropical countries compared to other varieties suitable for temperate areas that usually take an average of four years. The former can be harvested twice a year unlike the latter that yield once a year.
“Early fruit bearing and the possibility of being harvested twice a year are proof that the crop can yield high under the country’s temperatures,” he noted.
He, however, said that it was difficult to determine the market demand due to limited supply.
Plans are underway to promote the cultivation of the fruit across the country as farmers still believe that apples can only thrive in Europe or countries with cold climate.
It is expected that once farmers take up apple farming, prices would go down thereby increasing affordability and consumption of the fruit in the country.
However, a number of challenges persist including limited knowledge to tender for the crop including defoliation as well as other proper agricultural practices as a way of maximising production.
It is said that apple trees allow for inter-cropping and do not require frequent ploughing and weeding yet they have a lifespan of 50 years.
Government is encouraging farmers and private sector to embrace apple farming due to its potential besides creating jobs.