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Farm Radio Weekly is a news and information service for rural radio broadcasters in sub-Saharan Africa. It is published by Farm Radio International.

Farm Radio Weekly

Notes to broadcasters on cactus as fodder:

Different species of cactus have been used as animal fodder in dry regions around the world, from Latin America to Australia. But not all researchers agree on its usefulness. Most state that it has potential only under certain circumstances, such as drought.

The report from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) suggests that farmers should focus on using spineless cactus (Opuntia) species. These include Opuntia ficus-indica, O. vulgaris and O. leucotricha.

Cactus plants are famed for surviving in harsh conditions. They need very little moisture to survive, and often produce large plants. But Ben Lukuyu, an animal nutritionist at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, says the cactus’s low protein and dry matter content limit its use as a source of fodder to periods of extreme drought.

John Kang’ara, the lead researcher of the KARI report, says, “A cow consuming 40 kilograms of fresh cactus per day actually consumes 35 litres of water contained in the plant.” Though cactus is not a nutritionally well-balanced feed, the scientists say that this amount of water can keep an animal alive through a drought. “Under normal circumstances, a well-fed lactating cow consumes between 80 and 120 litres of water per day – depending on the size of the animal,” says Mr. Kang’ara.

Concerns have been raised that the plant will become an invasive weed. In Mexico for example, Opuntia took over wide areas of rangeland. It spreads easily and grows rapidly. Farmers need to be careful when using or planting cactus for fodder, so that it does not become unmanageable. KARI is planning to do more research on cultivation and management practices for farmers.

The full paper from KARI, which includes paragraphs on why cactus is an appropriate fodder in a changing climate, and highlights farmers’ experience with cactus in Kenya, can be read at: http://www.visbdev.net/visbdev/fe/Docs/Cactus.pdf.

Here is another article that discusses the potential of cactus as fodder: http://www.new-ag.info/focus/focusItem.php?a=340.

Background information on Opuntia, plus photos and a long species reference list, can be viewed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opuntia.

Farm Radio International has produced one script on the versatility of cactus:
The many uses of the prickly pear cactus, Package 44, Script 8, April 1997
Here is another relevant script:
Livestock management practices to cope with climate change (Package 84, Script 7, August 2008)

This news item raises the issue of using locally available resources to cope with periods of stress. During drought, animals often suffer as fodder becomes scarce. For livestock keepers as well as pastoralists, having sufficient fodder is of vital concern. If you broadcast to a dry region where cactus is common, this topic would make a good call-in or discussion program:

-What experiences do farmers have with cactus as animal fodder?
-Is it common where they live? Do they know which type or species grow locally?
-Under what circumstances would they use it as animal fodder?
-Would farmers consider growing it to use as a backup option during drought? Or is it seen as an ornamental plant, or a weed?
-Can farmers access information locally about the benefits and drawbacks of using cactus as fodder?

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