Cactus pears, or prickly pears, are seeing renewed interest from farmers in South Africa, due to climate change and drought as well as the plant’s numerous uses.
“There has been a huge new interest in the crop over the past three or four years,” says Hermanus Fouché, who works for the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and is also a researcher for the University of the Free State (UFS).
The drought conditions in many parts of South Africa are helping to boost the interest of local farmers in growing the cactus pear, Fouché says. For example, a farmer in the Western Cape, which has experienced a severe drought recently, wants to replace his grapevines with cactus pear.
The Alien and Invasive Species Regulations of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act define the prickly pear as an invasive species that must be destroyed. However, farmers can legally propagate the spineless cactus pear.
Fouché estimates that there are more than 900 local farms that devote a total of about 4 500 hectares to cactus pear production, including 1 500 hectares to harvest the fruit and 3 000 hectares for fodder.