Opuntia: A real success story for rural development at larger scale in the drylands

Spineless varieties of Opuntia can be very rewarding

by Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA01 copy.jpg
Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA01 copy.jpg – Nice Opuntia plantation, excellent yield in a short period

Planting spineless varieties of Opuntia can be very rewarding, not only to combat desertification, but also to produce fodder for animals. These varieties are growing quickly with a minimum of water in the drylands, like the ones in the very dry Nordeste of Brasil (see pictures).

Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA02.jpg
Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA02.jpg – Rows of cacti contribute to limit soil erosion

Cacti normally have a wide appeal to growers of ornamental plants, but they have only few economic uses. However, many cacti produce edible fleshy fruits (raw, jam, syrup). Some species are used in living hedges or even for furniture. Commercial plantations of the “prickly pear” Opuntia are found in Brasil, Mexico and California.

Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA06.jpg
Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA06.jpg – Rows on the contour lines

The disk- or racketlike, superposed parts of the Opuntia stems can be used as fodder. Goats, sheep and cows eat the fresh disks, cut into slices. One can also have the sliced disks sundried, grinded to flour and mixed with a bit of water for animal consumption.

Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA07.jpg
Photo WVC: 2000-06-BRASIL-OPUNTIA07.jpg – Many new disks are developed and can be harvested soon

Opuntia plantations on contour lines help to limit erosion on slopes. Regular harvesting of newly formed disks is easy. Feeding Opuntiaslices or flour significantly enhances meat and milk production.

I recommend to apply these Opuntia plantations as a real success story for rural development at larger scale in the drylands. It is a sustainable method to combat desertification, to limit soil erosion, to limit water consumption for irrigation, to improve environmental conditions and to easily improve sustainable fodder production, leading to alleviate hunger and poverty.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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