Farmers embracing prickly pear cactus as a multipurpose, income-generating crop

Photo credit: CGIAR Dryland Systems

Farmers Day at cactus field managed by the National Agricultural Research Center of Pakistan, Photo:ICARDA

A Prickly Cactus Journey: From Hellish Plant to Farmers’ Darling

Farmers in Pakistan are now embracing cactus as a multipurpose, income-generating crop to reduce risks associated with climate change


Today, the reality is very different. Farmers have not only changed their mind and beliefs about the cactus pear; they have actually increased their demand for its production.

Adapted to extreme conditions, the cactus pear can grow and survive in severely degraded soils and areas, where not much of anything else will grow. Given its high water efficiency and content, the cactus pear can sustain livestock through the driest of seasons. Compared to many other common crops and fodder, the cactus pear is easy to establish, maintain, and utilize. Its well-developed root system, which avoids wind and rain erosions, makes it an ideal feed crop in the face of climate change conditions.


ICARDA and ILRI scientists, in collaboration with the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council and the National Agricultural Research Center of Pakistan, supported by the CGIAR Research Program Dryland Systems and the USAID-funded Agriculture Innovation Program for Pakistan have been conducting a series of on-farm demonstrations and farmer field days in the Chakwal research action site in Punjab Province  to showcase the multiple uses of the cacti crop, including feeding livestock on chopped cactus pads.

It did not take long before farmers started to ask cactus pads to be planted in their fields. The farmers’ change of heart towards the cactus pear has generated a new problem. There is not enough supply to meet the demand.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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