Cactus pear, a drought-tolerant crop grown by millions of farmers in dry areas for nutritional and income generating purposes.

ICARDA, Mounir Louhaichi, Sawsan Hassan.
Published: 03 March 2021
Last edited: 03 March 2021
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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 use to improve their nutrition and incomes. Cactus is a multifunctional crop, mitigating drought and combating desertification and it helps farmers in dry areas cope with climate change. Cactus pear needs few inputs and uses water efficiently and it can replace expensive fodder and the farmer can generate more income. The cactus plants can be a source of water for livestock, particularly during the summer months when high temperatures and water scarcity threaten food security. For humans, edible cactus can serve medicinal and cosmetic purposes.


ICARDA developed agronomic practices to maximize productivity.  It carried out awareness-raising and capacity development alongside research centres, public bodies and NGOs and further facilitated business development by sharing experiences within its network. 


East and South Africa
North Africa
North and Central Asia
South America
West and Central Africa
West and South Europe
Scale of implementation
Coastal desert
Desert ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Hot desert
Pool, lake, pond
Rangeland / Pasture
River, stream
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Food security
Gender mainstreaming
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Infrastructure maintenance
Land management
Outreach & communications
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Watershed management
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Invasive species
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company
Direct engagement with associations
Indirect through government


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


Dry areas grow 44 per cent of the world’s food and are home to half of the world’s livestock. However, prolonged droughts and desertification as a result of land degradation threaten the livelihoods of the rural poor, especially in Africa and Asia. In arid and semi-arid regions, livestock production is difficult by low or erratic rainfall, nutrient-poor soils and high temperatures, which limit forage production and hinder sustainability. To survive, smallholder farmers need a water-efficient solution helping withstand droughts, high temperatures and poor soils. As an adapted crop, cactus pear helps address climate change. Cultivating adapted crops that thrive in harsh conditions increases the gains of livestock farming. Through farmers’ education and information-sharing, substantial improvements in productivity alleviate pressure on already-depleted natural resources simultaneously reducing the time and distance that women need to travel to collect fuel.


The cultivation of cactus pear increases the economic viability of small and medium-sized farms of low-income farmers.

How do the building blocks interact?

The cactus network permitted the discovery of key points related to cactus. Cactus as a fodder crop can address the widespread shortage of green fodder and reduces livestock watering, particularly during the summer months when high temperatures and water scarcity threaten food security. Good agronomic practices play a crucial role in achieving high and sustainable yields. These key agronomic practices were also developed in recommendations by Cactus Network. ICARDA developed a suite of best-bet agronomic practices to guarantee survival and maximize productivity and carried out extensive awareness and capacity development alongside National Agricultural Research Systems,  Ministry of Agriculture, Tribal development Department and development NGOs to change farmers’ perceptions, attitudes and practices toward cactus pear. Its success led to increase in international demand for ICARDA research and development, resulting in improved varieties with different phenotypic and genetic characteristics in terms of resilience, productivity, fodder and/or fruit production, that serves different agro-ecological zones and a cactus network operating with institutions from all around the world.



  • High adoption: In India, more than 240,000 cactuses are planted at farm level through ICARDA partners and more than 3,500 people benefited from capacity development activities. A study in India and Pakistan targeting smallholder farmers perceptions regarding cactus showed that 78% of adoption. 
  • Reduce gap in livestock feeding: Based on recent research, cactus pear has replaced up to 50% of food mixture in the feed ration of livestock.
  • High yields and multipurposed: A study demonstrated that young plants pruned to stimulate fruit quality could yield 8,000 kg of cladode dry matter per hectare.
  • Cactus is profitable crop: Profitability of cactus fodder was 40% higher comparing to other conventional fodder crops such as sorghum, green and black gram.
  • Secure farm boundary while generating income: Farmers plant spine cactus to protect their properties. These linear plantations do not require much input whilst generating additional income through marketing of cactus fruits. 
  • Innovation generator: A GEE (Google Earth Engine) map has been trialled in India to show suitability for the plant across India and can be applied to any country and crop. 
  • Business development: The cactus network ICARDA facilitates business development by sharing all aspects of cactus use including livestock feeding, human consumption, medicinal, cosmetic purposes, and as a source of bioproducts.


“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.

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