Environment

AMBIENTE

How an invasive cactus in Kenya become a resource

Opuntia Stricta and its use explained by IPSIA

05-01-2022 by Leni Frau

No land more than Africa teaches us that every element of mother nature does not grow by chance and that, although it may be considered useless or even harmful, if it is known, studied and worked on, it can become a resource.
This happens, for example, in the case of opuntia stricta, a type of invasive cactus that grows particularly in the semi-arid areas of Kenya.
As Giulia Dal Bello, head of the NGO Ipsia, which works with the Laikipia Permaculture Centre to transform opuntia into a product with many uses, rather than simply eliminating it as a weed, explains, opuntia can be used not only for its fruits, but also for its seeds and leaves.
"Invasive because where this cactus grows, no grass grows," Giulia explains, "and this in areas where the communities in the Laikipia region live mainly on pastoralism, but where they have also begun to promote sustainable agriculture and permaculture, means having an enemy in the house.
But like any plant enemy, if you know it, you don't avoid it, you study it and try to make an added value out of it. So from the fruits you can make a delicious jam, rich in properties and good because not too sweet, but you can also get an invigorating juice (try it for example in cocktails ...) and there is already a research by the University of Nairobi in concert with the University of Milan to assess the possibility of producing opuntia wine.
With the seeds instead, dried and then pressed with a special machine, local communities trained by LPC and IPSIA have started the production of oil which can be sold for cosmetic use, for example for the treatment of hair and dry skin, at lower prices than other products in circulation and can also be mixed with aloe.
Finally, the leaves of opuntia stricta, which are the least useful, inedible and most pest part, because their disposal in the soil becomes fertilizer for this cactus to reproduce.
"We have started two pilot projects in the communities to obtain biogas from the leaves - explains IPSIA's manager for Kenya - it is a new and innovative experiment that could solve several problems in the Laikipia area: first of all, reduce the use of wood to make charcoal, which is currently used as fuel, and then stop deforestation in areas that already have problems of low vegetation. In addition, biogas burning does not create respiratory diseases from which many people suffer, including children, in Kenya. Another aspect not to be underestimated, avoiding the cutting and transport of wood, women have more free time to devote to other productive activities and to the family.

 

TAGS: cactus kenyaopuntia kenyaagricoltura kenyaambiente kenya

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