Finding a Suitable Niche for Cultivating Cactus Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) as an Integrated Crop in Resilient Dryland Agroecosystems of India
Climate change poses a significant threat to agroecosystems, especially in the dry areas, characterized by abrupt precipitation pattern and frequent drought events. Ideal crops, tolerant to these events, such as cactus, can perform well under such changing climatic conditions. This study spatially maps land suitability for cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) cultivation in India using the analytical hierarchical process (AHP). Nine essential growth factors that include the climate and edaphic components were considered for the period 2000 to 2007. About 32% of the total geographic area of the country is in the high to moderate suitable category. Remaining 46% falls under the marginally suitable and 22% under the low to very low suitable category. The suitability analysis, based on the precipitation anomaly (2008–2017), suggests a high probability of cactus growth in the western and east-central part of India. The relationship with aridity index shows a decreasing rate of suitability with the increase of aridity in the western and east-central provinces (β~−1 to −2). We conclude that integrating cactus into dryland farming systems and rangelands under changing climate can be one plausible solution to build resilient agro-ecosystems that provide food and fodder while enhancing the availability of ecosystem services.