Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) utilization for rehabilitating rangelands in arid regions of Tunisia
Currently, rangelands contribute 10-25% of livestock feed requirements, compared to 65% in the 1960s, reflecting important rangeland degradation and loss. Direct factors responsible for the loss/degradation of rangelands include expansion of cultivated land, illicit wood collection, overgrazing contributing toward erosion, frequent droughts, inappropriate development of policies and regulations around resource utilization, and climate change. In light of this, a national strategy for rangeland rehabilitation was launched by the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture in 1990, and included cultivating, among others, atriplex, acacia and spineless cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) shrubs on a large scale. This strategy was implemented by the Livestock and Rangeland Authority (OEP), focusing on private rangelands, with a contract established between OEP and farmers. The OEP provides the cactus pads and the equivalent of US$70 ha‑1 as an incentive to cover costs related to planting. In addition, the OEP provides technical assistance to farmers. So far, the non-planted areas have produced 0.2-0.5 t dry matter (DM) ha‑1 as feed, while herbaceous biomass has increased by 3000 kg DM ha‑1. Feed biomass has also increased to 6-12 t DM ha‑1, with other benefits including increased fruit production for self-consumption or sale, reduction of soil erosion, improvement of biodiversity, shelter for wildlife, and improved carbon sequestration. Because land cover, feed and water resources are low on Tunisian rangelands and other such dry areas, the cultivation of cactus presents an opportunity to restore degraded areas, while livestock production stands to benefit, as it is also an important feed resource during barren and dry periods.
Gouhis, F., Louhaichi, M. and Nefzaoui, A. (2019). Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) utilization for rehabilitating rangelands in arid regions of Tunisia. Acta Hortic. 1247, 95-102
rangeland rehabilitation, drylands, climate change, biodiversity, agropastoral