Promoting the potential of spineless cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a multi-use crop at the Oppermansgronde community in the Free State province of South Africa
Farming in South Africa is under increasing socio-economic pressure, often because of small and uneconomical farming units, increasing production costs, droughts and unreliable rainfall during critical periods of the growth season of natural pastures (veld). In the arid regions, South African farmers are predominantly keeping livestock or wildlife. They face seasonal losses during winter and early summer because of feed shortages, and managing risk has become part of their daily lives. South Africa urgently needs new initiatives for sustainable rural development. The scarcity of water resources created a need to find alternative sources of animal feed, specifically crops that use water more efficiently. The spineless cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is such a plant, and well adapted in dry environments, producing large yields of cladode and fruit for humans and animals. It has the potential to improve and stabilize the livelihoods of rural people. An initial group of 26 participants in the Oppermansgronde community have been assisted to plant 2-ha plots of spineless cactus pear under a rain-fed system. Spineless cactus pears have high water-use efficiency (WUE) and are adapted to marginal soils, and therefore do not compete with most cash crops. Cladodes are not a complete animal feed source, but they played a marked role in sustaining cattle and sheep during a number of consecutive very dry summers (2014-2016); the usual animal losses were limited and, on some farms, no losses occurred. Reproduction of sheep and cattle was affected, but less than expected. The data are still being evaluated, but an average household income of about US$550 was generated from the sale of fruit and cladodes. Value adding and product development are also taking place in some households, with produce being delivered to road stalls. This project created a working model for other community-based projects.
De Wit, M., Fouché, H.J., De Waal, H.O., Coetzer, G.M. and Venter, S.L. (2019). Promoting the potential of spineless cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a multi-use crop at the Oppermansgronde community in the Free State province of South Africa. Acta Hortic. 1247, 57-62
Opuntia ficus-indica, spineless cactus pear, multi-use crop, drought mitigation