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Toxic and invasive cactus plant now a money spinner

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Whenever the cactus plant is mentioned to Kenyans, it conjures up images of an invasive species of plant that has colonized thousands of hectares of land in arid and semi-arid parts of the country.

The toxic plant said to have been introduced in the country by a colonial administrator in the 1940s from Australia has been in the news for all the wrong reasons with farmers blaming it for the death of hordes of their livestock and wildlife.

But all that is no longer on the minds of farmers in parts of Nakuru and the neighboring Laikipia County.

Cactus has turned a new leaf and is set to give a bountiful payback, not only to Nakuru and Laikipia residents but the whole of Kenya.

Women and youth groups within the devolved units are currently harnessing the nutritional value of cactus by making wine, yoghurt, jam, honey, oils, concentrates, and juices.

The beneficiaries now regard the invasive crop that has walloped vast plains in arid and semi-arid parts of the country as a ‘cash cow’ after undergoing training on smart agriculture techniques jointly carried out by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association (PELUM) and Laikipia Permaculture Center (LPC).

Director of LPC Joseph Lentunyoi says the program was rolled out after studies established that overgrazing had reduced the usefulness, productivity, and biodiversity of land in most arid and semi-arid parts of the country.

Previously, Kenyans have been encouraged to cut the cactus plants and bury them deep in the soil” observes Lentunyoi.

The women and youth groups have also been equipped with know-how on boosting yields on existing agricultural lands, including restoration of degraded lands and sustainable agricultural practices aimed at relieving pressure to clear forests for agricultural production.

Lentunyoi, a Permaculture consultant, says LPC has further trained women and youth groups on how to make soaps and oils from the plant to improve their livelihoods.

He states a cacti fruit that is edible in its raw form contains high quantities of unsaturated fat. It can also be dried and ground into a powder that can be used to fortify baking flour and animal feeds.

PELUM Upper and Lower Eastern Coordinator Mr. Benson Isohe observes that due to impacts of climate change, over-reliance on livestock keeping is a threat to rural economies, food security, and nutrition.

By adopting a value addition chain in cacti, Mr. Isoe observes that farmers will ease pressure on land and open up a new revenue stream.

Grace Kaparo from Irerio Women Group says many people who previously relied on pastoralism are harvesting the fruits for value addition and by doing so they are able to maintain their livelihoods as well as manage the cacti.

Ms. Kaparo reveals that members from twelve groups had been trained in the venture to use the plant to produce biogas rich in lignocellulose, the main raw material for the production of biofuels and bio-chemicals.

At LPC manufacture of the wine starts with cleaning the fruits thoroughly, then putting them in a blender which separates the pulp from the seeds.

The pulp paste is then drained into 20-liter containers for fermentation that takes about three weeks to yield sweet wine

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