Farmers encouraged to embrace apple farming

A stall of fruits in Kigali City Market in downtown Kigali. The ban on fruits from South Africa over the listeriosus outbreak has caused shortage of apples on the local market. File.

The Ministry of Agriculture has urged Rwandans to venture into apple farming to reduce the burden of importing them at a high price.

Beatrice Uwumukiza, the Director-General of Agriculture and Livestock Standards and Certification Services, argued that the recent ban on South African fruits has affected the local fruits supply but the next move should be exploring growing apples locally.

Research has proved its feasibility and can pave way for lower prices of the fruit, she said.

The ban on South African fruits and other products, which was imposed late last year by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry over listeriosis disease that has been rampant in South Africa for the past months, aims at preventing possible spread of the disease to Rwanda.

The ban, which came into force on December 19, 2017, has led to a sharp hike in prices from Rwf300 to Rwf500 for an apple in most parts of Kigali city where you can find the fruit.

Uwumukiza said that, since 2011, the Ministry of Agriculture, through the Rwanda Agriculture Board, has been testing apples adaptability in different parts of the country and the results have been positive in the majority of the tested districts.

The varieties available in RAB are Anna and Golden Dorsett and one rootstock variety MM106. They grow at 1500 to 2000m above the sea which means that Rwanda is very appropriate for apple cultivation.

Research also 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.

Daniel Nzamurambaho, of Kigeme Sector in Nyamagabe District, was among the first farmers to get apple seedlings from the Rwanda Agricultural Board in 2011.

Nzamurambaho was supplied with 100 seedlings to try on a one-hectare farm and a horticulture assistant to support him.

He says they blossomed well and he was expecting a significant yield despite birds having interfered by eating floors that affected the production.

He, however, says that he is not satisfied with the production as he was told one tree could yield 40kg to 50kg per season but for him he is only getting 10 to 15kg.

“I think that poor yield is relative to birds that eat the blossoms when they have just sprouted. I hear that in developed countries they put a shield over the farm to protect the apple plantation from birds but here the field is just open. I think I will approach RAB to advise me on what to use as a shield.”

Nzamurambaho said that though production is not satisfactory at the moment, he is impressed by the quality of the fruits. Next year he plans to increase production and become a model apple farmer.

Boniface Kagiraneza, the head of horticulture programme at RAB, said seedlings were imported from Uganda Agriculture Research Centre and experimentation was already ongoing at various research centres across the country.

“The two varieties on trial have proved that it is possible to grow apples under the Rwandan temperatures but mostly in regions with mild temperature, such as, Rubavu, Musanze, Kigali and Huye,” he noted.

For instance, Anna seedlings planted in Rwerere Research Centre gave a yield of 220 apples per tree in one season, which is considered good production. He added that the seedlings tried in regions with very low temperature like Gishwati failed to blossom because apples don’t resist cold weather.

“In Musanze, and some other RAB stations we have started sharing with the population in need of seedlings to try on their farms. In the next fiscal year, 2018/19, they plan to multiply the seedlings from 5000 to 20,000 and supply them in all research centres across the country,” he revealed.

It is expected that once Rwandans take up apple farming, prices will go down, thereby increasing affordability and consumption of the fruit.