Kate Wambugu: Laikipia Farmer Making Millions From Apples

Agriculture stands out as one of the most lucrative sectors globally, providing employment for over a billion individuals. In Kenya, numerous entrepreneurs have recognized the vast opportunities within the market and have delved into farming.

This essay centers on the success story of Kate Wambugu, the proprietor of Wambugu Apples, overseeing a multimillion-dollar fruit farm in Laikipia County. In a recent interview with Business Hour KE on September 22, 2022, Kate shared her journey, attributing her decision to follow in her father’s footsteps to his remarkable success in apple farming.

Her father initiated apple farming in 1985, and after 37 years, Kate continues the legacy by naming her farm after him—Peter Wambugu. Reflecting on her father’s prosperity, Kate emphasizes the importance of the end product, emphasizing that success in agriculture is measured by the yield rather than the nature of the labor involved.

Kenya predominantly imports apples from South Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, but Kate anticipates a shift as local farmers tap into the potential of apple farming. Contrary to common belief, she highlights that apple farming is not labor-intensive, requiring only land, water, and manure to nurture the trees.

Kate underscores the profitability of apple farming, revealing that, once planted, it takes a mere nine months for the trees to start producing fruits. A single acre can accommodate 600 seedlings, with each tree capable of yielding close to 200 fruits per harvest. The longevity of apple trees is a significant advantage, allowing for a century of harvests. Depending on the plantation season, a farmer can earn up to Ksh10 million per acre per harvest, with the potential for three harvests annually.

Manure plays a crucial role in apple farming, according to Kate, making the difference between success and failure. Apples are not only sold locally but also exported to the United Kingdom and other countries, subject to scrutiny by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) before distribution.

Given the preference for cold regions, particularly in coffee and tea zone areas, apples flourish in temperatures between seven to 10 degrees centigrade. While the natural cold season in Kenya limits local harvests to once a year, Mr. Wambugu suggests that artificial methods can facilitate two harvests annually.

Despite the adaptability of apples to various soil conditions, deep and well-drained soils with a pH between 5.5 to 6.5 are considered ideal. Mr. Wambugu introduced the grafted Wambugu Apples in 2014, asserting their successful cultivation in both cold-humid and semi-arid areas, allowing for twice-yearly harvests.

Kate highlights the uniqueness of Wambugu Apples, maturing in just nine months compared to the typical two years for other varieties. Approved by Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KARLO) and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), the seedlings are available at Ksh1,000 each. Wambugu ensures their quality before export by meticulously washing the roots.

In conclusion, Wambugu Apples present a promising venture, embodying a blend of tradition and innovation in Kenyan agriculture.