‘Cactus Choppers’ — another step to attaining sustainable livelihoods

Manual cactus cutters, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperati on and Development, enhance access to fodder and reduce workloads

An ICARDA project in Tunisia seeks to maximize feed resources for small ruminants, cut down labor time and injuries, and promote usage of a readily available and climate-resistant crop.

Cactus plants are widespread in Tunisia, able to withstand harsh dry climates, and are packed with energy-providing sugars. While only 10% of a cactus cladode is made up of nutrients, the rest is water. As such, they can provide an essential part of the daily water needs of ruminants that call such an arid area home.

ICARDA's 'red meat value chain' project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), aims to provide rural regions with a more readily available feed resource for small livestock.The latter can’t be let free to graze the landscape, however, as such practices can effectively destroy a harvest of spineless cacti and harm an already vulnerable landscape.

Cactus farming in Tunisia comprises over 600,000 ha, and its harvesting and processing requires labor-intensive cutting and chopping by knife in order to make it a better feed for ruminants. The labor is most often undertaken by women, who already have significant workloads. 

Undertaken with National Agricultural Research and Extension Services (NARES), the project distributed 29 locally-manufactured cactus choppers to local farmers and farmer associations, and an additional one to NARES partners for demonstration purposes. The choppers are powered by hand and more efficiently cut the cactus for ruminant consumption. Additionally, the machines are of relatively low-cost (USD 326) and can be shared among small farmer households.

The project is estimated to reach about 1,540 families, adding a total of 2,500 working days per year based on labor hours saved. When surveyed about what they intended to do with the time, 95% of the farmers noted that they would intensify their agricultural activities. This is particularly important in Tunisia, where labor is in short supply.

Chopped cactus can also be sold at local markets at higher prices than non-chopped cactus and can thus provide an additional source of income for farmers with surplus product.

Malika and Jannet Saabil were both beneficiaries of the chopper provided to their village in Kasserine: “We use cactus leaves to feed our sheep and goats [in] years when feed is scarce,” says Malika. “Usually we use knives to cut them into pieces. The spines and use of knives always cause wounds on our hands and make the work really exhausting. Thanks to the chopper we don’t cut our fingers anymore and have more time to spend on farming and other activities.”