Ever since he was in primary school, Peter Wambugu loved planting fruit trees, as a casual look at his father’s farm easily reveals. But little did the then farm hand know that his passion for growing fruits would one day change his destiny.
One day he was chatting with his friends at Ihwa shopping centre in Tetu District when he overheard two of his friends talk about two different trees they had come across in the Aberdare forest that bore very sweet fruits.
“I heard them say the fruits resembled apples and they had never eaten such sweet apples,” he recalls.
He enquired on where to find the trees and set off for the forest where he cut off several branches of the trees, which he took home and grafted into two other different species of apples that were already growing on his father’s farm.
“There are more than 7,000 different species of apples but I managed to graft four different ones and came up with one which produced very sweet and big apples,” says the 56-year-old father of four.
After nine months, Mr Wambugu could not believe his eyes when he saw all the three trees were full of apple fruits.
The fruit grew in popularity and soon, staff from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) paid him a visit. Mr Wambugu says they were amazed to see the three trees all loaded with big apples.
The team from Kari took several parts of the tree including roots, stem and leaves and after several days, they came back and approved his findings before rewarding him by naming the new apple variety after him — Wambugu Apples.
“This is the best reward I have ever received in my entire life,” he says adding that two men from Israel had approached him and requested that he sell them the idea behind the new finding but he turned down their offer.
After Kari awarded him by naming the new apple variety after him, Mr Wambugu says his life started to change for the better, although he doesn’t want to disclose the trees he grafted to come up with his new species for fear one might ‘steal’ his idea.
“My father was so happy about my finding that he gave me a share of his farm in which I have now planted 1,100 Wambugu Apples that are currently doing well,” he says.
He says he had to uproot coffee and tea bushes from his 1.75-acre piece of land so that he could grow his apples.
Mr Wambugu says he is unable to satisfy the demand for his apples, adding that nearly all the leading supermarkets in the country place orders with him. Recently a company from the US contacted him and requested to be supplied with 10 containers of his apples with every harvest.
Mr Wambugu says the company has discovered it can extract petroleum from apple fruits.
“I am unable to meet the demand and now I have seen it good to advise other farmers to plant more of this fruit so we can try supply to them and make good money,” he says.
The farmer harvests the apple twice a year and he sells them sells at Sh50-100. He also sells seedlings of the variety at Sh1,000 each.
Paul Kiraguri, an aspiring apple farmer from Nairobi, says he heard of Mr Wambugu’s fame from one of his friends and decided to go to his home to inquire more. Mr Kiraguri says he recently bought a one-acre piece of land in the outskirts of Nairobi and now wants to plant Wambugu Apples.
“This man is doing well and if farmers can buy his idea, the poverty index can reduce drastically,” he says.
Miriam Wangechi is another aspiring farmer who says she will be soon planting more than 100 Wambugu Apples in a piece of land that her father recently gave her.
Mr Wambugu’s fame has enabled him to sell his seedlings as far as the US, Denmark, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another farmer from South Sudan has ordered 100,000 seedlings while another from Rwanda wants a million of the same. He says this is a good sign that his product is doing well and pleasing many.
He has been able to buy more land in Meru and Laikipia where he is currently preparing to farm more apples.
“This species of mine can grow anywhere provided one supplies it with enough water and manure. It also requires a lot of sunshine more so when it starts to bear fruits,” he says.
Kenyans have been consuming apples from Israel and South Africa, a thing Mr Wambugu says can be altered easily if farmers get more involved in apple farming.
He says the earnings he gets are much higher than what many get from the same piece of land under either tea or coffee. Apart from growing apples, Mr Wambugu is also slowly venturing into peach farming, which he says is another booming business.
He has also converted his home to a training centre whereby he holds seminars educating people on how to grow apples.
“I receive people as far as Turkana and Malindi all wanting to know how I cultivate my apples,” he says.