The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) is in the process of developing four new apple varieties, the deputy director general, Dr Kassim Sadik, has said.
He explained that the development was aimed at supporting the brewing industry.
“Apple is mainly a temperate crop grown in the highlands of Kigezi and far eastern Uganda in the Elgon region. If we are to realise sustainable supply as a raw material, we need the mid-altitude varieties so that we increase the area under mass production of apples in Uganda,” Sadik said.
He said the supply to the industry would be primary before deciding which varieties brew better than others.
Dr Sadik said Uganda Breweries Limited (UBL) and NARO entered into a partnership to support the sector in widening and improving the varieties of apples to be used in the manufacturing of fruit-based products.
The director of research at Kakwekano Zonal Agriculture Research Development Institute (ZARDI), Dr Alex Barekye, without naming them, said the apple varieties were undergoing tests.
He was optimistic that they would improve the fruit quality of the two existing varieties, Golden Doset and Apple Ann.
The agriculture ministry officially released these in Uganda in 2010.
Dr Barekye said NARO conducted market studies to inform decision making for investment in the breweries.
“This was aimed at enhancing the yield and quality of fruits through research and promotion of good practices such as orchard management.”
The study was also aimed at supporting the organisation of farmers into groups to benefit from economies of scale and receive technical support in the production of quality planting materials,” he said.
Barekye said Uganda had over 20,000 farmers engaged in growing apples in the areas of Rwenzori, Kigezi, Mt. Elgon and the central region.
He said apple growers face challenges such as the lack of knowledge about apple growing and management, insufficient planting materials, pests and diseases, unstable markets, low value-added opportunities and a lack of research-extension farmer interaction.
Joseph Kawuki, the UBL agriculture manager, said in order to continue existing, the company had to continuously innovate, saying the latest innovation was coming up with products that were fruit-based.
“We have a Tusker Apple Cider on the market which is apple-based. But for it to continue making sense for the economy of Uganda. We have to get the apple to be produced within the boundaries of Uganda so that we support the farming community to make money as we produce our products while making sure that we are providing employment and supporting the local economy. As we continue in our journey of developing the apple value chain, we shall be looking at all the apples in the world and those tailored to the Ugandan environment,” he said.
He said for the start, the company was looking at 10 million fruits.
“We conducted a business survey and found out that the apples to start with are there, but we shall not be receiving them at the breweries. We shall be receiving them in the form of concentrates. We shall continue developing them by giving them our requirements, and in about six months, we shall be in a position to have the concentrates consumed at UBL,” he said.
“We wanted to first test the market before engaging in massive production. It is good that the market has accepted it tremendously, and we are happy with the demand that is coming through. What we need is to get the concentrates produced locally and then we will have the product produced locally,” he added.
Kawuki encouraged farmers to plant more orchards, saying the company was committed to the project.
The director of monitoring and evaluation at Operation Wealth Creation, Henry Banyezaki, said apples were a sophisticated crop that required farmers to have a lot of capacity building.
Mid, high-altitude varieties
The director of research at Kakwekano ZARDI, Dr Alex Barekye, said the two apple varieties would do well in high and mid-altitude areas, saying a trial at the Mukono ZARDI (Ntawo) did well after producing a big fruit size.
The Golden Dorset turns to a golden colour when ripe and is oval in shape, while Apple Anna is red to purplish when ripe.
Apples have two seasons in a year. After flowering, they take four months to ripen. A five-year-old tree can produce up to 300 quality fruits a season with six-eight fruits per kilo, and in a year one can get 600 fruits.