Cactus Pear for Better Nutrition and Income
- Mounir Louhaichi - Research Team Leader of Rangeland Ecology and Forages
- Sawsan Hassan - Research Associate, Coordinator - Forage Systems
ICARDA’s cactus pear innovation capitalizes on an underused crop that can provide better nutrition and income for millions of family farmers in dry regions. Cactus pear stands out as it can grow in harsh, dry conditions with relatively high temperatures, low water availability, and poor soil. Its nutritious and water-rich fruits and cladodes make it an important crop for animal and human consumption alike.
Opuntias are now part of the natural environment and agricultural systems, and Cactus pear [Opuntia ficus Indica (L.) Mill.] is the most important economic cactus species worldwide. However, in certain regions like the Middle East and South Asia, there was a lack of awareness of the importance of this crop. For instance, it has been only recently, after ICARDA’s peer-reviewed research and testing of a wide range of accessions under Jordan and India conditions, that the potential of cactus pear has become more widely recognized and understood. With its multi-functionality, it is now one of the most promising ‘new’ crops of the dry regions.
Used as fodder for livestock, cactus pear offers a high nutritional value for people, being rich in carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins, and water, and offering enormous health benefits by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. As a hardy, quality fruit with minimal agronomic inputs, it is ideal for low-income rural communities in dry areas.
To provide farmers with the tools needed to grow cactus pear as a viable crop, ICARDA scientists developed a suite of best-bet agronomic practices to guarantee excellent orchard establishment and management (survival and vigor) and maximum productivity. Extensive awareness and capacity development activities were also carried out alongside NARS and local development agencies to change farmers’ perceptions, attitudes, and practices toward cactus pear while training them on its use as a fodder reserve. The success of this effort has led to a substantial increase in international demand for further ICARDA research and development, resulting in improved varieties with different phenotypic and genetic characteristics in terms of resilience, productivity, and use (fodder and/or fruit production), that can serve different agro-ecological zones. Cactus pear is now inducted into further international research and food systems as an essential crop to sustain the livelihood of vulnerable smallholders across global arid and semi-arid areas.
Cactus pear agriculture is now found across dry areas in the MENA region and South Asia (India and Pakistan). In some locations it has replaced up to 40% of less hardy, unreliable, green fodder, especially in drier periods, resulting in 30% extra milk yields.
Several nurseries have been launched across India and Jordan, and an awareness outreach program has been established to inform decision-makers, government officials, and farmers beyond the CGIAR sphere of influence about its importance. Studies with farmers in India and Pakistan show 90% of responders eager to begin growing the plant.
The FAO-ICARDA cactus network facilitates business development “entrepreneurship” by sharing experiences from all over the world in all aspects of cactus use including for medicinal and food purposes and increases awareness of the potential risks and remedies to fight against the spread of cactus cochineal.
A Google Earth Engine (GEE) map was also developed and has been trialed in India to show suitability for the plant across India. This technology can now be applied to any country and crop. A practical, safer, and cost-effective cactus pear chopper has also been designed and distributed to farmers to speed up and ease animal feeding while reducing the workload for women as part of ICARDA’s gender outreach efforts.
Prasenjit Acharya, Chandrashekhar Biradar, Mounir Louhaichi, Surajit Ghosh, Sawsan Hassan, Hloniphani Moyo, Ashutosh Sarker. (23/10/2019). Finding a Suitable Niche for Cultivating Cactus Pear (Opuntia ficus‐indica) as an Integrated Crop in Resilient Dryland Agroecosystems of India. Sustainability, 11 (21). https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11766/11250
Mounir Louhaichi, Suresh Kumar, Sunil Tiwari, Muhammad Islam, Sawsan Hassan, Om Parkash Yadav, Devi Dayal, Hloniphani Moyo, Rahul Dev, Ashutosh Sarker. (11/10/2018). Adoption and Utilization of Cactus Pear in South Asia—Smallholder Farmers’ Perceptions. Sustainability, 10 (10). https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11766/8521
Mounir Louhaichi (Producer, Director), Sawsan Hassan (Producer, Director). (12/1/2021). Cactus pear - the green gold "Best Agronomic Practices for establishing cactus Orchard". Jordan: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11766/12373