FIFTY six-year old Peter Wambugu Kago does not boast of a university degree or even a certificate from an agricultural institute, but he is a global celebrity in his own right.
He trained as a Jua Kali mechanic in Nyeri Town Â after working as a farm hand for several years following completion of primary school education in 1976.
But today, prominent farmers from various parts of the world troop to his Ihwa Village home, Tetu District , Nyeri County to purchase apple fruits, Â seedlings as well as seek technical advice on the crop husbandry.
He has managed to improve the local variety of apple plants following years of research.
At first, Wambugu started by growing coffee, tomatoes, tree tomatoes and passion fruits among other crops on his two acre piece of land, which he says was not very rewarding.
He decided to try his hand in apple business after he won a tender to supply fruits to Mt Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki.
Though the other types of fruits were in plenty, apples proved to be hard to get.
â€œI used to buy South African apples at Ksh20 and supplied them at the same prize so as to retain the tender, but realized I was instead incurring huge losses by the end of the day. I decided to be buying them locally which were not of much help either,â€ he narrates.
It was then that he resolved to grow his own apples so as to meet the demand.
He unsuccessfully strolled in Mt. Kenya forest searching for wild apples.
Wambugu however never gave up and proceeded to Aberdare Forest where he found two trees believed to have been left behind by white settlers.
It is alleged that the valuable trees were transferred into the forests by EuropeansÂ to keep them away from Africans after sensing that freedom was coming.
He improved them by grafting with a variety from Israel that was given to him by a friend. The product was named after him by Kari officials, Wambugu Apple. The new variety matured in only nine months unlike the local type which would take over 23 years to produce fruits.
â€œI first started by growing 12 trees whose fruits were readily accepted in the market due to their sweetness. This motivated me to plant more trees. By then I had already lost the tender as I could not meet the demand, but I resolved to keep on trying and propagated even more seedlings,â€ he maintains.
The farmer used to hawk the fruits in various towns which includes Nairobi, Nanyuki, Naivasha and Nakuru among other major towns in the country.
He said he was motivated to keep up the work by a white man who saw them and upon inquiring their source, he told him they fetched good money in the market.
The stranger went ahead to insist that they are used in preparation of wine, juice and flour.
â€œI grew more seedlings as demand for fruits and seedlings grew every other month. I sold seedlings to prominent farmers from countries such as Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Zaire, Uganda and Tanzania among other,â€ he claims.
Currently, Wambugu has a nursery with over 5,000 seedlings.
He sells a single seedling at Â Ksh 1,000 while a fruit goes for Ksh80 to Â Ksh 100 depending on size. By the time the seedlings in his nursery are over, he will have pocketedÂ Ksh 5 million from them alone. The fruits are harvested in two seasons in a year, in January and December.
One tree can bare 500 fruits or more according to age as production improves with time.
That means a single tree can earn aboutÂ Ksh50,000, which can translate to millions of shillings in a season.
When not in season, he concentrates on propagation and selling of seedlings, keeping him occupied throughout the year.
The farmer who has grown the fruits since 1991 has nine varieties and is working on four others which he says will be producing apples that are green when ripe.
The current variety is reddish when ripe.
He has 1,200 trees in his Ihwa farm and 100 trees in Gatarakwa in Kieni Constituency, where he intends to put five acres under the plant.
The father of four has no regrets for abandoning coffee growing. With the proceeds from apples, he has managed to educate four of his two children to university level and the rest to college.
He has also bought land totaling to 23 acres in Kieni, Nyeri County, all of which he intends to plant apples.
â€œI had invested in the Matatu industry where I had purchased two but later sold them to concentrate on farming. Â Other than using the proceeds to feed my family, I also help neighbours and friends in need with the money earned,â€ he confirms.
He says that though the tree has no disease threat, it is usually affected by pests from other plants in the farm which he easily fights using organic fertilizers. The tree is also not laborious to tend to, like other cash crops as picking is easy and does not require a lot of weeding. One can also inter-crop it with other food crops.
His work is not without challenges.
He says that though he is regarded as the best producer in the country, he has been unable to meet the market demand which has resulted in loss of tenders. A company in America had ordered for about ten tonnes of the fruits which he was unable to supply.
He says the way forward is to embark on a campaign to have as many people as possible grow them so that together they can meet the demand.
Wambugu says that: â€œI am more than willing to offer technical advice to farmers if called upon to do so. I can confirm that the campaign I had started has been bearing fruits as some of my neighbours and friends have been responding positively and own several trees now.â€
To begin, a farmer should start with 50 trees if serious in the business according to Wambugu. But if unable to, due to financial constraints, one can still begin with one tree and increase their population in due course.
Three of his children have followed his footsteps. One of his sons Samuel Kago is already preparing four acres for the plant while another son Martin Ndirangu intends to plant two acres. One of his two daughters Catherine Nyokabi is also planning to venture in the fruit farming.
Apart from apples he also grows avocado, passion fruits among other as well as keeping dairy cows but in small quantities.
If you wish to contact Wambugu Personally his Â phone number isÂ 0720 789802