Farmers in Pakistan’s drylands love it, African farmers too ?

Photo credit: CGIAR


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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:

  1. Forage for livestock and animals;
  2. Fruit and vegetable where young cladodes are consumed fresh or cooked;
  3. Source of natural red dye accepted by health authorities worldwide;
  4. Processed foods where a potential market for cacti-based concentrated juices, liquors, semi-processed and food supplements is viable;
  5. Cosmetics industry, which might be a significant source of income;
  6. 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.

This research is being conducted in the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems under the South Asia Flagship and supported by the CGIAR Fund Donors.

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

Read the full article: CGIAR Dryland Systems

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.

Crop imvement in Morocco

Photo credit: Icarda

The Marchouch research station near Rabat is host to a model crop improvement program.

Morocco: ICARDA research platform showcases model crop improvement program 

As changing climate, growing populations and diminishing natural resources worsen the challenges facing smallholder livelihoods and food security in dryland areas, developing improved crops that can keep pace with these demands is an ongoing mission for crop scientists. Morocco, one of ICARDA’s major research hubs for crop improvement, is leveraging the country’s diverse soils and climate conditions to develop crop production technologies for both high and low potential agroecosystems.
A visit to ICARDA’s research station at Marchouch near Rabat, held in conjunction with the 56th Board Meeting (May 2-6, 2015), provided an opportunity for ICARDA’s Board of Trustees to get a glimpse of the crop improvement program that is bolstering ICARDA’s mission and mandate of food security and improved livelihoods in dry areas, while supporting breeding programs the world over.
Highlights of ICARDA’s crop improvement program: 
Durum and bread wheat are core to food security and therefore, a major part of ICARDA’s crop improvement program at the Marchouch station. The program accomplishes this through global germplasm distribution from its international nurseries of durum and bread wheat, alongside breeding of new improved varieties with traits such as drought and heat tolerance, by screening thousands of landraces and cultivars.
These new varieties are tested and adapted with national partners in countries for release. Collaboration being key to successful adoption of innovative technologies, a durum wheat project phenotyping root systems for drought tolerance and boron toxicity is working with Senegal scientists to test and validate results in the soils of Senegal. The largely rice growing country is seeking suitable wheat technologies to be able to start wheat production. The project is simultaneously building national capacities by training six PhD students from Morocco, Algeria and Senegal, while benefiting from the young talent in its team.

Read the full article: Icarda

Goats generated enormous benefits for the poorest women

Photo credit: Icarda

The project provided poor rural households, especially women, with the skills, knowledge, and inputs to engage in profitable dairy goat production

Can goats lead to lasting gains for Afghanistan’s women?

Fighting poverty is a constant struggle for rural communities in resource-scarce remote parts of Afghanistan, particularly women. Years of conflict has made it even harder to find a stable source of income. An ICARDA project that promotes the distribution and management of goats has generated enormous benefits for some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable women, and continues to multiply impacts through its ‘Pass on the gift’ initiative. 
For decades, Afghanistan has been grappling with poverty. Rural women, though largely invisible, are at the forefront of this war with poverty. In remote communities, goat rearing is a major source of livelihood: most Afghan women, in rural areas, have at least some level of experience with goat rearing, even if they do not own one.
With limited or almost no technical expertise, however, they haven’t been able to turn goat rearing into a sustainable livelihood option. Production of goats and products such as meat, milk and cashmere have been severely constrained by a range of factors, including conflict, drought, scarcity of feed and low levels of knowledge in areas such as milk collection and processing, and animal health.
Building resilient livelihoods through livestock 
To enhance the benefits of dairy goat rearing, which is a common source of income for poor families in rural Afghanistan, a project was implemented by the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and ICARDA, and funded by the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD). Starting in 2010, this project was primarily geared to provide poor rural households, especially women, with the skills, knowledge, and initial inputs to engage in profitable dairy goat production – to improve their livelihoods, nutrition, and income.


Read the full article: Icarda

A self-sustaining value chain

Photo credit: ICARDA

With the help of the project, more efficient processes and higher quality products are generating additional incomes for rural women

Connecting rural women to global markets

In remote regions of Central Asia, where many households depend on goats and sheep for their livelihoods, a harsh climate, poor access to markets, and lack of know-how, limits income-earning opportunities. An ICARDA initiative targeting rural women used a market-driven approach to establish a self-sustaining value chain, from improved breeding and husbandry practices to the production of world-class yarns and appealing products, linked to export markets.
For small producers of sheep and cashmere and angora goats in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, international fiber markets can seem a world away. Local fiber processors – mostly poor rural women – who add value by spinning, weaving, knitting and felting, are equally cut off from these distant markets where handmade, luxury clothing and handicrafts fetch a high price.
Furthermore, the collapse of state-run breeding programs after the breakdown of the Soviet Union has left them without access to new knowledge and training programs to adequately meet market standards.
These conditions pose a serious threat to the sustainability of the yarn sector in a competitive world, and with that, the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families in Central Asia who live in a harsh climate and rely on livestock production as their only source of income.
Breeding animals for higher yields and quality 
In 2009, ICARDA began collaborating with small-scale producers in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to establish new breeding programs, using imported genetics and artificial insemination with frozen semen to improve flock quality and yields.


Read the full article: Icarda


Enabling women to combine farming with bringing up children and running household

Photo credit: ICARDA

Cactus thrives on very little water and does not require frequent labor inputs. 

Female farmers show the way

In parts of Egypt’s arid New Lands, female farmers are choosing to grow prickly pear, a type of cactus, rather than more conventional crops such as wheat. Prickly pear is better suited to desert conditions than most of the crops promoted by the Egyptian government. It also generates an income which helps women to pay for their children’s education. Against a backdrop of climate change and associated water shortages, ICARDA researchers have identified ways that the government can support female farmers in the New Lands and promote the cultivation of prickly pear and other drought-tolerant crops throughout desert settlements.


Due to climate change and population growth in the Nile Basin, Egypt is set to face severe shortages of irrigation and drinking water in coming years – it is predicted that by 2050, Egypt will need to use around 50 per cent of the Nile’s water for drinking alone. At the same time, up to 15 per cent of agricultural land in the fertile Nile delta could be inundated as sea levels rise.

Since the 1980s, the Egyptian government has been resettling farmers in desert regions, the so-called ‘New Lands’, in response to land and water shortages and as a strategy for boosting food production. Each settler is provided with a plot of land, a shared irrigation pump, and a house. ICARDA researchers have been investigating how female settlers have adapted to farming in these arid conditions.


Female farmers in some New Lands settlements grow spineless prickly pear, Opuntia ficus-indica f. inermis, to supply the tourist sector in Cairo and Alexandria. This is partly a response to their marginalization from support programs, such as agricultural extension activities, which promote more conventional cash crops such as wheat.

In fact, prickly pear suits desert conditions better than other produce grown in Egypt, such as fruit trees. The cactus thrives on very little water and does not require frequent labor inputs. Because of these characteristics, it has sometimes been dismissed as a ‘lazy farmers’ crop. These same features, however, enable women in the New Lands to combine farming with bringing up their children and running their households, which are often located some distance from their farms. The cash they earn from selling prickly pear fruits has helped them to fund their children’s schooling and provide for their daughters’ marriages.



For more information:

Najjar, D. (2015). Women’s contributions to climate change adaptation in Egypt’s Mubarak Resettlement Scheme through cactus cultivation and adjusted irrigation. In Buechler, S and Hanson A.S. (Eds). A Political Ecology of Women, Water and Global Environmental Change. Chapter 8.

Read the full article: ICARDA

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