High-yielding grafted apples for low rainfall regions

Farmers in low rainfall areas can grow grafted drought tolerant apples for a continuous supply of the fruit even during drier seasons.

Muranga County's Gifted Apples Seedlings nursery has developed low-water-demanding seedlings from a loquat and and two most common apples, Rome beauty and Winter bananas.

Manager Martin Gitau says the resultant variety can do well in areas such as Taita-Taveta, Machakos, among others, which have the appropriate soil, altitude, among other conditions.

“With the climate change, weather pattern are changing. If it fails to rain and you have already invested all your hope and resources in the apples, you are likely to suffer losses. With this variety , a farmer can comfortably predict that they will earn something at the end of the season even with little rain,” Gitau said.

Loquats are more resistant to drought than apples. Fixing a scion of an apple on a stock of a loquat gives a more tolerant, yet productive fruit tree.

“Depending on the management practices, a farmer can harvest between 200 and 300 fruits on the first harvest, after three years. Subsequent harvests are usually higher because the tree could have 'hardened',” he said.

In spite of apples being in multiple varieties, Gitau settled on the Rome Beauty (also called Italian Beauty) and Winter bananas because of their popularity in the market.

He is selling the seedling at Sh350 each.

Ideally, rainfall of 1000mm to  1800mm per year is sufficient for apples.

Apples do well in high altitudes (1800m-2800m above sea level). Hight altitudes allow for cold temperatures that re necessary for breaking of bud dormancy.

That is why the few farmers in this business are in Nandi, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu counties. The dormancy can also be broken by application of chemicals.

Well drained loam to sandy soils contribute to high yields.

Drier parts of Taita-Taveta, which have relatively cold temperatures, are suitable for growing apples.

Kenya imports apples from South Africa to meet the local demand for the fruit. One apple costs between Sh20 and Sh30 in Nairobi.