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Kenya spearheads Apple farming revolution in region

Crop
 Apples are washed and graded at the newly launched Apple Grading and Packing Warehouse. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

Kizito Akuta, a resident of Eastern Nigeria, found himself captivated by the world of apple farming two years ago when he stumbled upon Kate Wambugu’s YouTube channel. Until that moment, he had never seen an apple plant. Despite his lack of prior knowledge, he harboured a deep love for apple fruits.

“I got interested after watching her share technical information about farming apples, huge markets available, and benefits,” he begins.

Driven by curiosity, Kizito reached out to Kate, requesting her contact information. Two months later, he made the journey to Wambugu Apple farm in Laikipia, Kenya. There, he gained hands-on experience and valuable insights into apple farming. Inspired and armed with newfound knowledge, Kizito returned home, purchased 300 seedlings, and planted them.

“Today, I am an apple farmer and ambassador of Wambugu Apples in Nigeria, where I have also inspired several others to plant apples. Kate provides us with technical support whenever needed.” He reveals a significant demand for apples in Nigeria.

Kizito, a member of the Kenya Apple Growers and Exporters Association (Kagea), shared his experiences during the launch of the Wambugu Apple Grading and Packing Warehouse in Kenya, attended by numerous farmers.

This facility represents a notable advancement in the agricultural sector, featuring a state-of-the-art packing line with a capacity of 10 tonnes per hour, operational around the clock to meet the demands of the growing fruit market.

Speaking at the launch, Kate Wambugu, Director, and Wambugu Apple Ambassador reflected on her early years, how she interacted and eventually learned the intricacies of apple farming from her father, who pioneered Wambugu Apple in 1985, after abandoning coffee due to poor returns.

“I grew up seeing my father propagate apples, grow and establish this one-of-a-kind variety of apple that fruits all year round. This meant that he had to constantly look for a market for his fruits, and the losses were immeasurable,” she says.

This remarkable journey led to the apple being officially registered under the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (KEPHIS) as Wambugu Apples.

Kate explains that exposure and close interaction nearly 40 years ago motivated them to build onto her father’s vision of Wambugu Apple, hence the arrival of another feather in their cap—the state-of-the-art fruit grading and packing warehouse, poised to address issues on efficiency and effective post-harvest management.

“The machine will eliminate post-harvest losses. We have farmers who don’t know where to take the produce, so the machine will grade their fruits since we need quality fruits for the export market, such as Europe and also parts of Asia. For the required standards, the machine can effectively grade, clean, and pack.”

She says farmers from far places like Mpeketoni and Malindi have faced huge post-harvest losses due to transport logistics. The company did not also have cold rooms where it could store apples as it waited for markets.

“If we took apples and failed to sell immediately, that was a challenge and could easily result in post-harvest losses and income too. Now we have grading machines and cold rooms where we can store unsold ones for even a week without getting damaged,” she explains.

In Kenya, Kate shares they have sold a mix of all grades with both sizes and weights due to the lack of a grading machine. But now, the machine will pick and pack according to grades such as one, two, and three.

Mathew Njenga, Chairman Kenya Apple Growers and Exporters Association (KAGEA), explains that by taking 10-15 tonnes per hour, the machine ensures efficiency in processing and packaging fruits, providing a streamlined solution for farmers and distributors.

The facility is the first of its kind in the region, given its capability to grade and pack a diverse range of fruits.

“The warehouse’s operations are designed not only to enhance the economic prospects of farmers but also to promote environmentally-conscious farming practices,” he explains.

Dr Betty Kibaara, Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, lauded the machine, explaining it marks a pivotal moment in the agricultural landscape, symbolizing a commitment to innovation, sustainability, and the prosperity of farmers.

“As the facility commences operations, Wambugu Apples Limited will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of post-harvest management and creating socio-economic impact for value-chain actors,” Dr Kibaara explains.

Since becoming the Wambugu Apple Ambassador, Kate says it hasn’t been easy. However, through the power of social media, the business continues to grow across the world. She markets apple farming tips on YouTube, where hundreds of farmers locate her.

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