Ngabonzima: The agronomist dedicated to saving fruits from extinction

Ngabonzima calls on the Government to train interested people how to multiply rare trees including fruits and natural tree varieties that are becoming extinct.
Ngabonzima with a cherimoya tree he has looked after. He is passionate about caring for fruits that risk going extinct. / Jean de Dieu Nsabimana

For years now, some fruits have disappeared from markets stalls while others are only available as imports.

For instance, with its aroma and sweet white cream, many wonder what really happened to green, heart-shaped Cherimoya (Annona Cherimola); a fruit many called “karibebefu”, derived from a French name of another fruit in the Annona tree family, ‘Coeur de Boeuf’.

Ali Ngabonzima, a professional agronomy engineer and a resident of Rwamagana District, has another job but has dedicated his other time to working on apple and cherimoya trees, imported fruits and those that are extinct or risk going extinct.

His story with cherimoya fruit dates back when he started taking care of a tree that was growing in his family compound, watering it and giving it what it needed for it to thrive until it bore fruits.

Saving the mature tree gave him proof that he needed and he started working on the seeds and multiplying them.

The people to whom he distributed the first cherimoya seedlings were mostly those who had cancer problems.

This plant is a proven remedy for cancers of all types.

“People with cancers are recommended to use it. When you boil the leaves in water and drink it, it is good because it deals with cancerous cells,” he declared.

For those who have no cancer, the fruit’s leaves are protective.

He eventually ran out of the seedlings because the number of the people interested in them was bigger than he had anticipated.

Cherimoya normally takes between three and five years to bear fruits, but a grafted one takes up to two years.

He says that more than 500 cherimoya seedlings are expected to be available in the April rainy season.

He clarified that fruit flies were behind the rotting or ripening process, but he said his variety proved to be resistant.

“Most of time, the fly attacks the tree and impedes its maturity hindering its growth and fruit bearing process. Even when you get fruits, they rot and are infested with worms. Personally I pick the fruits and keep them until they ripen it. When you protect a mature tree, you get good seeds and preserve them, when you plant them, the trees undoubtedly give you healthy fruits,” he continued.

According to research reports available online, evaluations in Latin America indicate certain growing preferences of wild cherimoya, including optimum annual temperature range from 18–20°C and soils with high sand content. The tree thrives better throughout the tropics at altitudes of 1,300 to 2,600 metres.

Venturing into apples

Despite having sold many apple seedlings, Ngabonzima has three mature trees in his small garden at home and nearly ten seedlings.

He has 110 other trees a bit far from his home. Before, he used to sell one seedling for Rwf5, 000 but has since stopped because he is focusing on increasing their number first.

Ngabonzima also has young pomegranate and fig trees.

“My main goal is not getting money from these fruits but to save them and make them available for all people in the country,” he said.

He also shares videos on social media showing how to take care of the trees and how to multiply them.

“What I do is to encourage people to do as I do. I give a tree to a person and teach them how they will multiply it,” he said.

His biggest dream is to give the masses access to fruits that are unavailable in markets today or those that they have never seen.

“When these fruits become available again, we will be able to buy them for as low as Rwf50 just we buy an avocado,” he says.

He called on the government to train interested people how to multiply rare trees including fruits and natural tree varieties that are becoming extinct.

The main multiplication methods he uses are cutting, layering.


From residents to sellers, cherimoya fruits are something that they think about with a lot of nostalgia since it is now rare or expensive.

“Cherimoya must be the most delicious fruit I have ever eaten. I used to eat it at my grandmother’s house back in 2000 but I don’t know what really happened but it slowly disappeared and is right now almost impossible to find,” said Sylvine Ishimwe, a resident in Rwamagana town.

What you need to know about cherimoya

The tree is grown in tropical regions throughout the world, but researchers say that it was cultivated centuries Before Christ.

Thought to be native to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, today’s main producers of the fruit are Spain, Peru, and Chile, among other Latin American countries.

In Peru and Chile, it is commonly used in ice cream and yogurt.

Containing essential nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, it has anti-cancer, skin and hair benefits. Its consumption has proven to reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, it can also help in the regulation of blood pressure levels and heart rate, among others.