Cactus Species for Sustainable Agriculture
Economy, Domestic Economy

Cactus Species for Sustainable Agriculture

Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semi-arid parts of the world. An article in the Persian newspaper Forsat-e Emruz suggests investing on mass cultivation of the cactus as an alternative livestock feed during seasonal fluctuations in the quality and quantity of natural forage.
The opuntia is cultivated in more than 30 countries for its fruits, young cladodes (as vegetables) and mature cladodes for forage. opuntia cladodes are edible and opuntia is used as famine food during drought periods. opuntia plays an important role in sustainable agricultural systems in arid and semi-arid zones
The plant was first imported to Iran from Tunisia in 2004. Research projects for its cultivation were carried out in different areas throughout the country including Borazjan (Bushehr Province), Qasr-e Shirin (Kermanshah Province), and Mehran (Ilam Province). Accordingly, the provinces of Bushehr, Kermanshah, Ilam, Isfahan, and Khuzestan and some desert regions of central Iran were discovered to be suitable for opuntia cultivation.

  Advantages of Investment
Opuntia, also called as the spineless cactus, contains water (80%), protein (1.5-2%), carbohydrates (about 5.1%) and fiber (6.8%). The high nutritional value and it being drought resistant make the species a suitable source of water and feed for cattle in drought-prone regions, according to agricultural expert, Ja’far Amiri.
The fruit of opuntia, commonly called cactus fruit, cactus fig, Indian fig or tuna in Spanish, is also edible. The red/purple fleshy fruit is currently sold in domestic markets at prices ranging from 120,000 to 220,000 rials ($3.5-$6.5 at market exchange rate) per kilogram, making the cultivation of the cactus more profitable. The opuntia fruit is also used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries for the treatment of diabetes, lipid disorders, inflammation, and ulcers.
opuntia species are also used to prevent soil erosion (by providing cover) and desertification, Amiri noted. Because they use CAM photosynthesis, they are ideal species for responding to global environmental changes such as the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. They also protect the local fauna by surviving in very arid conditions.

 Economic Importance
Agricultural expert, Seyyed-Mehdi Arab, believes investing in cultivation of the cactus species has vast economic benefits, particularly in view of the limited water and feed resources for cattle in the country which has forced Iran to import animal feed or devote vast areas of land to fodder crops.
“Currently, many countries in Africa and South America have resorted to mass cultivation of opuntia ficus-indica as a fresh source of feed for cattle,” Arab noted.
The expert further noted that the cactus species is resistant to drought and can be cultivated in areas with an average rainfall as low as 100 millimeters, making it a suitable plant for cultivation in arid regions of central Iran.
By comparing it with the current prices of livestock feed, Forsat-e Emruz estimates that every kilogram of opuntia ficus-indica could be sold in the domestic markets at 7 to 10 million rials ($200-$300) per metric ton. 

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