Apples promise a sweet, bright future

CLAYTON MASEKESA reports on a fruitful venture in the Eastern Highlands, where the climate and soils are good for apples.

Rudo Chifamba tending her seedlings.
Rudo Chifamba tending her seedlings.

Rudo Chifamba irrigates rows of healthy apple tree seedlings in her backyard. Tending the seedlings brings satisfaction and provides an income. With an eye for opportunity and patience, this hard-working widow is cultivating a brighter, sweeter future for herself and her children.

Although she started small, she now has a thriving business selling fruit and apple tree seedlings from her four hectare orchard.

Since the apple tree seedling business took off in 2009, Chifamba, a widow with three children, has purchased some cows, four sewing machines, new furniture and a mobile telephone. She has also obtained piped water for her garden and home and put her three children through school, which she regards as an important personal achievement.

A former Claremont Orchards employee, she lost her job as tree grafter at the height of the infamous land “reform” programme in 2001. She then decided to go it alone at her homestead in Juliasdale.

She managed to acquire some good apple varieties and using her experience grew them in her orchard. She now produces apples of both the Macoun and Cortland variety and grows and sells tree seedlings.

High quality

As a direct result of the high quality of apples that she produces, she has won tenders to supply apples to various hotels and restaurants dotted around Nyanga, the Eastern Highlands and the Manicaland province as a whole.

“I got some of the seedlings from Steven Miller, a white farmer who was about to leave the country,” said Chifamba.

According to her, she is one of only a few farmers to grow the varieties. She described the Macoun apple as a crisp and juicy medium red apple with snow-white flesh.

“Its honey sweetness makes up for its mild flavour. This is a most desirable apply for eating fresh, for snacks, salads and fruit cups. It also makes good apple sauce,” she said.

The Cortland apple is a medium-to-large red-and-green-striped apple. “It is crisp, juicy and sweetly tart. Because its white flesh resists browning, Cortland apples are favoured for salads and fruit cups. It is a good all-purpose apple,” explained Chifamba.

Good climate and soil

She advised that the Nyanga climate was good for growing apples. “Apples require day temperatures of above 18°C and night temperatures of above 13°C to break dormancy. However, optimum night and day temperatures of about 6-8°C will enable complete bud breaking. Nyanga is the best place to grow them and one of the reasons why my apples are among the best,” she added.

The Nyanga area also has good soil and rainfall, both commodities required for the growing of apple seedlings.

“Apples are best grown in deep, well-drained sandy to sandy loam soil. Nyanga has adequate rainfall and in times of drought we usually get enough rainfall to grow apples,” added Chifamba.

As a result, prominent farmers from her community and various parts of the country now flock to her orchards to purchase fruit and seedlings as well as seek technical advice on the crop husbandry.

“At first it was difficult because I did not have enough cash to seriously embark on this project. Since, I am a widow, I did not have someone to support me, all I had was experience in growing and looking after apples,” she said.

She was motivated to keep up the work by Miller, who convinced her that the apple varieties would ultimately fetch good money in the market.

Never looked back

“I started by growing 12 trees that I was given by Miller. This motivated me to plant more trees,” she maintained.

It took four years for the trees to mature, and then after grafting, a further nine months to mature. From harvesting her first batch of apples in 2009, she has remained impressed by the turnover and has never looked back.

She grew more seedlings as demand for fruit and seedlings increased. As the years passed, she began selling the seedlings to prominent farmers within the community. Currently, she has a nursery with over 5,000 seedlings while still producing apples for the market.

She declined to reveal figures and profits, but did advise that she employs six full time employees, three of them previously employed by Claremont Orchards and that she hires some part time workers, thereby creating employment for members from her community.

As her business has grown, Chifamba has embraced the culture of saving, with the goal to save enough money to expand her business and ultimately export her produce.

“I need to expand. I want to target the export market and employ more people. I want to form partnerships with big investors so that this becomes a big project,” she said.

Post published in: Gender Equality

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