How the Humble Apple Conquered the World

Just two generations ago, most apple-growing countries only produced enough apples for their own domestic consumption and apple growers' biggest worries came down to insects and labour costs. In recent years, with exports growing, the pruning gloves have come off.

Steven Knipp

How the Humble Apple Conquered the World

To readers of the Bible, the humble apple became the single most important fruit of all time when its delicious ruby good looks seduced Eve into taking a bite of the forbidden fruit—when she thought God wasn’t looking.

But, alas, he was looking. And we all know what happened after that. God shuttered the Garden of Eden and booted both Eve and Adam out. And what doctors call the larynx in the human throat is also commonly called an “Adam's apple”—the result of the forbidden fruit remaining in Adam’s throat forever.

While that unfortunate fruit-related episode badly tarnished the reputations of Adam and Eve, (not to mention forever bruising the PR image of serpents) we’re happy to report that since that time the humble apple has gone on to far greater things.

Following its celebrated appearance in the Garden of Eden, the apple was later discovered growing wild 4,000 years ago in Central Asia; Kazakhstan insists that it is the birthplace of the apple, and the name of the country’s original capital is Alma-Ata, two Kazakh words meaning ‘father of apples.’

In any case, since then, the apple has become beloved by consumers in virtually every corner of the globe and is today one of the world’s most cultivated fruits.

What makes the apple popular with consumers—apart from its juicy taste, is that it can be eaten raw or cooked and has a wide array of uses: apples can be baked or stewed, they can be used as a dessert, or a juice, or even as a popular alcoholic cider.

Another key element making apples a favourite fruit with increasingly health-conscious consumers worldwide is its many health benefits. Apples are low in calories (a medium-sized apple is only about 80 calories) yet high in fibre and extremely rich in important antioxidants. Many doctors believe that apples can help reduce the risk of developing cancer, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, strokes and heart disease, which would certainly seem to prove the old proverb: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away".

7,500 Varieties

The apple probably boasts more varieties than any type of fruit. According to a recent review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are some 7,500 varieties of apples grown throughout the world, with almost 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the US alone.

While tropical fruits such as mangos and bananas are more popular in South Asia and Southeast Asia, the apple is by far the most popular fruit in many Western nations, especially those in the Northern Hemisphere, including the US, Canada, France, Germany, and Russia. This, no doubt, is due to the fact that apples need cool weather to grow and chilly air to really thrive.

Among the best-known apples are Japan’s popular Fiji apple, Australia’s famed Granny Smith, America’s Rome and Red Delicious apples, and Canada’s Mcintosh. Two popular native grown apples in India are the Chaubattia Anupam, and yellow-striped Lal Ambri.

But the list includes such lesser known varieties as Japan’s Sekai-ichi apple (meaning “world’s best”) which costs US$21 each. The orchards where the Sekai-ichi are grown are pollinated by hand using a tiny wand and they are washed with honey-water before being packaged.

Fiercely Competitive

According to the Brussels-based World Apple & Pear Association (WAPA), as of 2012, the world’s 10 leading apple producers were China, the US, Turkey, Poland, India, Italy, Iran, Chile, Russia and France. China leads production by far, as it produces almost half the world’s supplies of apples, compared to the U.S., which supplies six percent of the world market.

Just two generations ago, most apple-growing countries only produced enough apples for their own domestic consumption. And the only things that growers had to worry about were insects, labour costs, early frost, and maybe price cuts by their domestic competitors.

In recent years, however, the pruning gloves have come off. And today international competition among apple growers to export their produce has become intense. But at the same time, many nations are keen to protect their domestic markets from imported foreign apples.

In the last decade, Tokyo has tried to halt both New Zealand and the US from exporting their apples to Japan. Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have also fought to block some varieties of American-grown apples. And earlier this year, Vietnam closed its doors to Australian apple growers, claiming their apples may have fruit flies. Last year the Vietnam market was worth US$40 million to Australia’s apple growers.

In many instances, the reasons cited by one nation for blocking apple imports were strictly health-related—that is the fear of potential insect infestation, or a bacterial fungus infection. In such situations, both countries must then argue their case at the World Trade Organization (WTO)—which is both costly and time-consuming.

As if normal commercial competition was not enough, now even international politics can seriously affect apple producers. Recent political measures by American and European leaders to punish Russia (for its aggression in Ukraine), have led Moscow to retaliate—by banning apple producers in the US and European Union from exporting their apples to Russia. This is bad news for European and American apple growers.
But for Poland, which is Europe’s largest apple producer, it has become a serious problem, as until recently, Poland relied on Russia for more than half its exports. The Russian ban could mean the loss of over 300,000 tons of apples – equal to the entire annual apple crop of the UK. The Poles have asked their people to drink more apple juice to help support their domestic apple producers.

Meanwhile, in an ever-shrinking world, the Chinese—the world’s largest apple producers – now plan to export more apples to the Russians to fill the gap caused by the banned US and EU grown fruit. And growers in South America are also expected to increase the size of their apple exports to Russia as well.
However, China’s apple exports are forecast to decrease by six percent to 880,000 metric tons in 2014/15 during the marketing year (MY July-June), according to Exports China, an authoritative guide to the Mainland’s trade statistics. China’s high apple prices are also causing a decline in sales to Southeast Asian countries that are price-sensitive. Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh still are major importers.
Apple production at 37.8 million metrics tons in MY 2014/15, estimated by Apples Post, an authoritative trade source, is down five percent, because of a decline in output in the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Low temperature and heavy rains in this region during the spring blossom period were cited as the main reason.

China’s apple imports are forecast to rebound by more than 60 percent to 40,000 metric tons in MY2014/15. The sharp increase in domestic prices have made imported apples more competitive. Washington Red and Golden Delicious apple imports will resume following the announcement by China in October 2014 to lift the suspension of Washington apples due to quarantine pest issues. If market access for other US apple varieties is granted as expected, it will further boost apple imports from the United States. Prior to suspension in 2012, the US supplied nearly half of the import market demand .

Apples play an important role for generating farmers’ income in key producing provinces such as Shaanxi and Shandong where local governments place high importance on apple production. For instance last year, the Yantai administration in Shandong province, published the “Guidelines on Facilitating the Upgrade of Apple Industry”. According to this official tract, the local government will continue to promote Fuji varieties and facilitate high density planting systems. It has set a target for apple acreage to expand to 213,000 hectares by 2020. Shandong province is the second largest apple producing province in China. The guidelines also support the development of e-commerce to enhance the production, purchasing and marketing of apples.

But while apple competition worldwide is fierce, there are also cases of good-will and cooperation. India today is probably—by volume, the world’s fourth-largest apple grower. But production levels have started to decline due to pests and ageing trees. However, an apple-growers’ association in New Zealand called Pipfruit New Zealand plans to help revitalise a part of India’s apple industry. With the help of a US$160 million World Bank loan, the Kiwi apple farmers intend to carry out a seven-year project and work with 250,000 apple growers in Himachal Pradesh state, where some 90 percent of the population depend directly on agriculture and apples account for 81% of the horticultural industry.
In exchange for its long-term help, Pipfruit NZ hopes to build a closer relationship with Indian apple- growers which may eventually lead to a tariff-free window for Kiwi apples during the months when no Indian fruit is available.

While the British get most of the credit for bringing apples to India, it was thanks to an American that Himachal Pradesh got apples. An American Quaker named Samuel Stokes brought in Red Delicious apple trees from the US in 1916, and distributed vast amounts of free apple seeds to local farmers. Stokes eventually took the Indian name "Satyananda” and was the only American to become a member of the All India Congress Committee.

You could say that Stokes was an example of what we today would call ‘a good apple.’


Making Wine in the Vineyard

ll agricultural land has “terroir” – the French word for the interaction in a particular location of

Looming Water Crisis

Fresh water is a scarce resource. Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water, but

Tough Battle Against Nature

South american producers of bananas are going through some tough times. Prices are dropping and plagues

India’s Banana Appetite

Bananas gets their name from the Arabic word for finger. But India is the fruit’s birth place and also

China’s Banana Dilemma

While other major banana producers around the world are racking up order-after-order for bananas, China,