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Cactus is a very promising fodder plant, and I would like to cultivate it on at least one acre of land to feed my cows. Besides, I can get better income by selling cladodes to other farmers.”

Mr. Varun Sharma, a farmer from Bhuj.


For small farmers to survive in the ever-harsher conditions of dry areas, they need crops that use water efficiently and can withstand droughts, high temperatures and poor soils. With the help of cactus as a multipurpose crop, farmers are able to diversify their livelihoods in a changing climate. 


Cactus pear: Cactus pear is a multipurpose crop that is drought-tolerant, adapted to dry conditions and easy to use.

Training on using cactus for feed: Farmers are trained on how to prepare a balanced diet for their animals using available by-products.

Cactus network: To facilitate business development, farmers from all over the world can share their experiences in all aspects of cactus use, including livestock feeding, human consumption and medicinal and cosmetic purposes


Cactus pear as a multipurpose crop can offer:

  • Best-bet agronomic practices to teach farmers to increase yields
  • Business development opportunities to diversify livelihoods

Countries involved

Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Arab Peninsula (Oman, UAE, KSA, Qatar), Yemen, Libya.

Project partners

Indian Counsel for Agricultural Research (ICAR), Maharashtra state, Odisha State, AFSED and APRP (AFESD, IFAD and OFID), FAO-ICARDA Cactus network, Palermo university, BAIF Institute For Sustainable Livelihoods And Development (NGO), Office l’Elevage et des Pâturages (OEP), National Agricultural Research Center Jordan (NARC), Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI),National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Morocco, Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) and various ministries from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen.

Project dates

2011 – Present

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The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) promotes cactus pear as a crop that millions of farmers in semi-arid and dry areas can use to improve their nutrition and incomes. Cactus is a multifunctional crop, mitigating drought and combating desertification. In South Asia as well as Middle-East and North Africa (MENA), the cultivation of cactus pear increases the economic viability of small and medium-sized farms of low-income farmers. 


Dry areas grow 44 per cent of the world’s food and are home to half of the world’s livestock. However, prolonged or recurrent droughts and desertification as a result of land degradation threaten the livelihoods of the rural poor and smallholders in many countries, especially in Africa and Asia. Additionally, in arid and semi-arid regions, livestock production is made more difficult by low or erratic rainfall, nutrient-poor soils and high temperatures, which limit forage production and hinder long-term sustainability. To survive in these harsh conditions, smallholder farmers need a water-efficient solution that can help them withstand droughts, high temperatures and poor soils. As an adapted crop, cactus pear helps address one of the biggest challenges of our time: climate change. Cultivating adapted crops that can thrive in harsh conditions increases the potential gains of livestock farming. With additional effort, through farmers’ education and information-sharing, substantial improvements in productivity could alleviate pressure on already-depleted natural resources while simultaneously reducing the time and distance that women and girls need to travel to collect fuel (firewood).


Thriving on marginal land where no other crops can grow, cactus is a promising multipurpose crop that can help farmers in dry areas cope with climate change and variability. 

Cactus pear is drought-tolerant and easy to grow. It needs few inputs and uses water efficiently, losing little to evaporation. For livestock, cactus can replace up to 50 per cent of less hardy green fodder, especially in drier periods. Effectively traditional forages require a lot of water to grow which is unsustainable especially in dry areas. On the contrary, cactus can replace these expensive fodder (minimize cost of livestock feeding) the farmer can generate more income. The cactus plants can also be a source of water for livestock, particularly during the summer months when high temperatures and water scarcity threaten food security.

Cactus also helps farmers meet increased demands for green fodder. The plants yield significant quantities of leaf-like cladodes that are fit for both human and animal consumption. When processed, the cladodes can form the base of balanced diets for livestock. For humans, the edible cactus can also serve medicinal and cosmetic purposes. 

Good agronomic practices play a crucial role in achieving high and sustainable yields. ICARDA developed a suite of best-bet agronomic practices to maximize productivity. To change farmers’ attitudes and practices regarding cactus pear, ICARDA carried out extensive awareness-raising and capacity development alongside research centres, public bodies and development NGOs. It also trained farmers on using cactus pear as a fodder reserve. ICARDA further facilitates business development by sharing experiences within its network about all aspects of cactus use.

The success of cactus pear has led to increased demand for research and development, resulting in improved varieties with different characteristics better suited to different agro-ecological zones. 

 “Cactus is a very promising fodder plant, and I would like to cultivate it on at least one acre of land to feed my cows. Besides, I can get better income by also selling cladodes to other farmers,” said Varun Sharma, a farmer from Bhuj. 


  • High adoption: In India, more than 240,000 cactuses were planted, and more than 3,500 people benefited from capacity development activities. In a study conducted in India and Pakistan, 78 per cent of smallholder respondents said they would start growing cactus pear. 
  • Reduced gap in livestock feeding: Recent research suggests cactus pear now makes up half of the mixture in livestock feed. 
  • High yields: A study demonstrated that young plants could yield up to 8,000 kilograms of dry cladode per hectare, which would provide nearly a quarter of the basic feed resources required by South Africa’s commercial ruminant feed manufacturing sector.
  • Reduced water consumption for livestock: Given its high-water content (80 per cent), when livestock are offered a diet rich in cactus, there is no need to provide water to them. 
  • Profitability: An Indian Grasslands and Forages Research Institute (IGFRI) study showed the profitability of cactus fodder was 40 per cent higher than that of other conventional fodder crops such as sorghum and green and black gram.
  • Secure farm boundaries while generating income: In North Africa, farmers plant spine cactus to protect their properties. These plants require little input, and their oil can be sold at a very high price. 
  • Innovation generator: A Google Earth Engine map developed to show cactus’s suitability across India can now be applied to other countries and crops. Also, because of ICARDA’s gender outreach efforts, many new producers are women.

Lessons Learned/Potential for replication 

Awareness-raising programmes are necessary to inform decision makers, government officials and farmers beyond the Consultive Group for International Agricultural Research sphere about the importance of cactus. Reforms are required to create an effective and sustainable agro-industry based on cactus pear production, from creating new infrastructure to providing appropriate training. For example, in India, several nurseries have been launched, enabling different stakeholders – including NGOs, cow shelters, agricultural extension centres  universities, institutes, community-based organizations  (CBO), private businesses and individual farmers – to plant more than 240,000 cladodes. 

Next Steps 

Next steps include supporting local institutions, NGOs and farmers’ associations to play an active extension role. This includes implementing additional nurseries across several states to speed up cactus pad multiplication; developing the cactus-production capacities of farmers, extension services, local authorities and development agencies; and exploring uses of cactus such as fruit production. Once large plantations of cactus are established, new types of business will be implemented to expand use of cactus in medicinal agro-industries, and cosmetics 

Despite growing interest, it will be vital to use public-private partnerships to increase awareness about this opportunity to invest in youth, rural communities and national economies. 

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Video Author: IFAD TV

Video Resolution:1280 x 720

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Field day on cactus pear at Mushaqqar station in Jordan

Image Author:Mounir Louhaichi

Training course on cactus pear at Mushaqqar

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Last update: 25/05/2021