My name is Grace Bazanya, an agro forestry technician at Mukono Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Muzardi). I am one of pioneer workers of National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), which I have been part of for 20 years.
I have a diploma in agro forestry from Foresty College Nabyeya and over time, I have been undergoing different courses and upgrading my qualifications.
I have a lot of experience in agro forestry because of all the time I have spent working in that department.
To benefit farmers
Today, I manage the apple project at Muzardi, which started in March 2009. In fact, the initiative is in relation to our mission, which is improved livelihoods of the farming communities in the Buganda region. So, we thought of introducing a crop that would benefit the farmers and improve their livelihood.
In Naro, we have zonal and national institutes. Our sister institute in Kabale, which is Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research Institute, takes care of the highlands in that part of the country, while Muzardi is in charge of all districts in Buganda apart from Sembabule and Rakai. For the latter, it is because they are mainly cattle keepers so they are categorised under the Mbarara region. We also take the islands of Kalangala.
With apples, Kachewekano is already ahead so they bring few varieties and we try them here in the region of mid-altitude.
By that, we refer to an altitude that is neither high nor very low. We brought in six varieties of apples and we have been evaluating them to see their performance in this zone.
We have Golden Dorset, Dalmena Green, Winter Banana, James Drif, Gloster and Anna and we also have two types of pears, Naspo and Taiwan high breed. This is what we are dealing with right now and they are all doing well.
Susceptible to diseases
The performance is not bad for crops this size. The highly performing varieties are Golden Dorset and Anna. But we will recommend all. The only problem is that some of them are more susceptible to diseases like apple scab, powdery mildew, gif rust and pests.
Sometimes also, the environment causes them to occur because these plants are for temperate lands yet these are tropical lands and we have diseases that the others do not have.
What makes the two types--Golden Dorset and Anna--perform better is the fact that they can get bigger than the other apples that you will find in the local market.
We got the seedlings from Kabale because the project to grow apples in Uganda started there around 1998. With Naro, we use improved fruit variety so that means we shorten the maturity period unlike in the past when we used to rely on the natural ones.
A lot of these are grafted and this is the joining the two parts of a plant. In this case, we use a mature branch and a young seed so that it can mature fast.
Instead of six or seven years that an ordinary tree, a grafted tree takes one to one and a half years. Even mangoes and oranges ordinarily take about five years but if grafted mangoes or oranges can take one year or one year and half years.
Apples require well drained soils and rich soils that do not dry up. The drying up affects any crop because it withers and thus losing out. That is why we use mulch. In doing so, we are trying to make sure that soils do not dry up.
When planting, we dig up pits; they should be two and half feet wide and two feet deep. After achieving this dimension, then you plant your grafted plant.
I would advise anyone planting to use manure, which adds fertility to the soil. Interested farmers can get seedlings at our centre in Mukono. We sell each at Shs10,000.
After planting, the upper part (the scion) can start fruiting even after six months. I advise farmers not to leave the first flowers; they should remove then because the weight of the fruits will break the stem.
The removal will enable the stem to first become stout. That the only thing we do because this is a temperate fruit which sheds leaves in winter. But we do not have that natural process here, so we do the shedding of leaves mechanically when the season comes.
When you remove the first flowers, you induce flowering and after that the maturity takes three or four months accordingly for the Anna and Dorset varieties.
Meeting the demand
Anyone can basically grow apples in Uganda provided you have land, the knowledge and fulfill the conditions I have given above.
I have had a chance to appear on television to talk about apples.
And since I appeared on TV, the demand for the seedlings has been very high. During that time, the phone calls were overwhelming and we had not even started supplying seeds.
We are starting slowly but have not reached the capacity to meet all this demand.
But, in future, we will. They have to come to Muzardi to get the seedlings.
It is a new crop so people are still cautious, so they buy in small quantities. I also would not advise someone to start off big. They need to first get the knowledge on how to grow the crop.
I would advise those who are intending to grow apples, to start with 20 crops at least. When you have learnt how to manage them, you can keep on increasing the number. What I can assure you of is that it is a fruit that will give good returns.
On market, an apple can go for about Shs1, 000 but we can sell at farm gate for half the price, so you can get an apple for Shs500. The best part is that each apple tree can produce up to 500 fruits or more.