Photo credit: CGIAR
A Prickly Cactus Journey in Pakistan
CGIAR Dryland Systems
Since the 1980s, scientists at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in collaboration with a host of partners and stakeholders have been documenting lost knowledge of how indigenous communities used cacti in the past, and identifying the potential uses of cacti, such as:
- Forage for livestock and animals;
- Fruit and vegetable where young cladodes are consumed fresh or cooked;
- Source of natural red dye accepted by health authorities worldwide;
- Processed foods where a potential market for cacti-based concentrated juices, liquors, semi-processed and food supplements is viable;
- Cosmetics industry, which might be a significant source of income;
- Medicinal applications: promising results for the treatment of gastritis, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and for obesity.
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.
The cactus pear was introduced to Pakistan in recent years through Cactusnet, an international technical network on cactus established back in 1993 through an initiative led by FAO and ICARDA. Network members from several countries shipped cactus cladodes to first to India, where different cultivars are being evaluated against criteria of suitability and adaptation to local conditions. Based on preliminary findings, the most prominent varieties are being identified and then shared with farmers in both India and Pakistan.
Many varieties of offspring cactus cladodes have been already produced and shared amongst local dryland farming communities. The farmers are now focusing on letting their cactus plants grow larger so that more cacti crop can be harvested annually.
It is hoped that in time, the cactus pear crop will be utilized as green forage to reduce the feed gap during the driest part of the year, when other crops fail to survive, and livestock mortality is the highest. The use of these high-energy, nutrient-rich cacti plants is not only helping to reduce risks associated with extreme climate variability and depleted natural resources; it is also providing farmers with an alternative source of income through the sale of cacti fruit and cacti seed oil to cosmetic companies. Cooked cladodes are also appropriate from human consumption, therefore contributing to increased food security for Pakistan’s dryland communities. As knowledge of the benefits of the cactus pear spreads from one community to another, scientists are helping farmers refine the cultivation, harvesting, and processing practices for this game-changing crop that has been resurrected from a mythical hellfire.
For more information, please contact:
Mounir Louhaichi, Senior Rangeland Scientist, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas and ICARDA Focal Point for the FAO-ICARDA Cactusnet at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full article: CGIAR Dryland Systems