Photo credit: Renewable Energy World
Image: Cultivated Opuntia (prickly pear cactus)
The spineless variety, easy to grow, easy to feed
Success story and best practice, the Opuntias
OPUNTIA SPP. – A STRATEGIC FODDER AND EFFICIENT TOOL TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION IN THE WANA REGION
Ali NEFZAOUI and Hichem BEN SALEM
Therefore, most of the WANA countries are seeking appropriate tools to prevent rangeland degradation and restore productivity. Some of the improved rangeland techniques include (i) reduction of stocking rates; (ii) controlled and deferred grazing; (iii) periodic resting; (iv) extended water supplies; (v) reseeding; and (vi) shrub planting.
Moreover, productivity can be improved by increasing feed supplies from alternative sources, including (i) legumes or other forage crops grown in place of fallow; (ii) fodder banks of naturally grown legumes fertilized with phosphate; (iii) treatment and suitable supplementation of straw; and (iv) other crop residues and agro-industrial by-products. In addition, a planned government strategy for drought relief should reduce the risk to small ruminant producers and increase production.
The search for appropriate plant species to grow in arid areas is a permanent concern of most people living in harsh environments. Cactus species fit most of the requirements of a drought-resistant fodder crop. According to De Kock (1980), they must:
- * be relatively drought resistant, survive long droughts, and produce large quantities of fodder during the rainy season, which can be utilized during dry season;
- * have a high carrying capacity;
- * supply succulent fodder to animals during droughts;
- * not have an adverse effect on the health of the animals utilizing it;
- * tolerate severe utilization and have high recovery ability after severe utilization;
- * have a low initial cost (establishment and maintenance); and
- * tolerate a wide range of soil and climatic conditions, so that they can be planted where the production of ordinary fodder crops is uncertain.
The future of the arid and semi-arid zones of the world depends on the development of sustainable agricultural systems and on the cultivation of appropriate crops. Suitable crops for these areas must withstand drought, high temperature and poor soil fertility. The opuntias fit most of these requirements and they are important to the economy of arid zones, for both subsistence and market-oriented activities (Barbera, 1995).
IMPORTANCE OF CACTI IN ARID ZONES
The increased importance of cacti in arid zones is because of their ability to:
be more efficient than grasses or legumes in converting water to dry matter, based on their specialized photosynthetic mechanism (CAM) (Russell and Felker, 1987a; Nobel, 1989a)
remain succulent during drought;
produce forage, fruit, and other useful products; and
prevent long-term degradation of ecologically weak environments.
It is suggested that cacti, and Opuntia spp. in particular, were introduced into the WANA region by Spanish Moors. Nevertheless, large plantations were not established until the 1900s. These plantations were implemented to create living fodder banks to feed animals during drought and to combat desertification.
Read the full article: FAO