Unreliable markets value Tanzanian apple growers dearly

By Seif Jumanne

Njombe. Apple farmers in Makete District in Njombe Region have expressed their frustration following high post-harvest losses in the last season due to lack of markets among other reasons.

The farmers mentioned inadequate farming skills, absence of better packaging materials, poor trading modules, unreliable markets and inaccessible funding as the major challenges preventing the industry’s development despite available opportunities.

Mr Kambarage Sanga, a farmer, told The Citizen that he incurred a Sh8 million loss from his five acre farm consisting of 3,400 apple trees in the last season.

“I expected to earn Sh20 million last season but I only managed to get Sh12 million,” he says.

Mr Sanga says heavy rainfall that caused spots on the fruits making them unappealing to customers is among challenges that led to his loss. According to him, other challenges include market unreliability and lack of better packaging materials to add value to the produce.

“Farmers are forced to sell their produce in buckets which denies them better earnings,” he says.

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Mr Sanga’s sentiment is supported by Mr Christopher Fungo who started engaging in apple production in 2005 after receiving training on the best seedlings production practices.

According to Mr Fungo, at that time apple farming was considered a non-profitable activity as compared to now where the price of a seedling has doubled to Sh3,000.

Mr Fungo who owns a five acre farm comprising 1200 apple trees agrees to the absence of a reliable market is a challenge that farmers are facing.

“Extension services should enable us to produce quality fruits. Farmers are supposed to be exposed to better farming practices as well as pests and diseases control measures,” he says.

He too mentions inadequate funding as a hurdle preventing farmers from making progress. He blames financial institutions for setting difficult loan conditions.

According to him, commercial banks have been demanding submission of apple production statistics, which is an uphill task to many farmers.

“Under normal circumstances one apple tree can produce 60 to 80 kilos of fruit, although the amount can significantly increase depending on improved farming techniques,” he notes.

Mr Fungo believes farmers can improve production if financial institutions provide them with soft loans to enable them to practice irrigation farming, timely procurement of agricultural inputs and making appropriate control of pests and diseases.

“Lack of a reliable market has adversely affected farmers who invested enough capital secured through difficult conditions but failed to achieve their goals at the end of the day,” Mr Fungo notes.

“The government should look for a reliable market in order to rescue local fruit producers, including creating a conducive environment for the crop’s development,” he adds.

He calls on the government to declare apples as among strategic crops, noting that properly managed apple trees could continue benefiting farmers for over 50 years.

Makete District authorities and agricultural research experts have revealed that measures are in place to address the challenges and add apples to the list of key strategic crops in the region.

The head of the district’s irrigation department, Mr Anicet Ndunguru says his department is currently mobilizing farmers to produce quality apples that can survive competition both in the local and foreign markets.

“One apple imported from South Africa sells at Sh1,000 similar to that produced in Makete. A kilo of the Makete produces consists of up to nine fruits,” he says.

Makete District executive director William Makufwe says his office is taking several measures including mobilization and collaboration with farmers to revolutionize apple farming in Makete.

“To start with, the district will introduce modern apple seedlings that are pests and disease resistant and that can produce fruits that are able to attract market domestically and outside the country.”

Mr Makufwe says the district will endorse the budget that will push apple farming.

“The budget will focus on carrying out research on new apple varieties that thrive in the district as well as increasing the number of agricultural personnel who will attend and supervise farmers to ensure production of enough and quality apples.”

According to him, better marketing procedures will be adopted and farmers will be connected with financial institutions in order to address the capital accessibility challenge.

Mr Makufwe says his office is considering adding apples to the list of strategic crops and that the district is responsible for reducing over 95 percent importation dependency from South Africa.

He says classifying the fruit as a strategic crop like cashews, coffee, grapes, sunflower, tea and cotton will significantly benefit the district.

“By making it a strategic crop, the district will have created a reliable source of revenue, which will enable us to speed-up implementation of development projects,” says the DED.

Government’s intervention

A fruit researcher from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (Tari) at the Uyole Station in Mbeya, Mr Daudi Mbongo says Tari plans to do a comprehensive assessment over what transpired in Njombe.

“We will then start teaching farmers better farming practices in order to produce better fruits in large quantities. We will also mobilize farmers to do away with traditional varieties and start cultivating modern ones,” he shares.

According to him, apart from Nane Nane farmers’ shows, Tari usually uses demonstration farms in Kitulila to teach better farming practices. Makete District will get it’s own demonstration farm soon.

Mr Mbongo says apples thrive in cold areas and that in Tanzania, they are produced in mountainous areas. He says historically the crop was first produced by Christian missionaries in the 1900s and that individuals started producing a few trees for domestic purposes.

Apples producing regions include Njombe, Mbeya, Iringa, Morogoro, Tanga, Ruvuma, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Manyara and Mara.

apple farming

The crop requires soft soil with low water retention capacity. Apple seedlings are planted at a spacing of four meters between the seedlings and the lines respectively, according to Mr Mbongo.

He says apple farms should be cleaned before digging two feet deep and three feet wide holes for seedling transportation.

“Two buckets of Minjingu or NPK fertilizer should be added to the soil. In case the soil has high acidic levels, manure application in a systematic manner could bring the level down,” he says.

“Lime should be applied in three layers. Once applied it should be covered with sand from bottom to top where a seedling would be planted,” emphasizes Mr Mbongo.

According to him, the application would significantly reduce acidity level and help farmers produce quality fruits that meet the preferences of consumers.

apple varieties

There are different types of apple varieties including the Golden Doseti, Anna, Fuji, King David, Crispin and Granny Smith.

“If farmers adhere to better apple farming practices, the country can produce and meet local demand and export the surplus,” he says.

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