Cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) makes a valuable contribution to the food security and nutrition of people throughout the world wherever water is scarce. The plant is highly versatile and, in addition to feeding people, it is widely used for livestock feed, burned as fuel and used to protect the environment in which it is grown. Opuntia spp. provides the basis for viable rural communities.
There are more than 300 species of the Opuntia genus, which originated in Mesoamerica and subsequently spread throughout the world, adapting to different agro-ecological zones and to the demands of people, to preferences for traditional foods and culinary tastes, and to the constraints imposed by different agricultural practices.
The versatility of Opuntia spp. makes it particularly useful to small-scale producers and provides the basis for exploiting the species in applications ranging from home-grown produce prepared in the home, to small-scale and large-scale production/processing value chains. Agro-industrial manufacturing enables cactus products to be packaged and shipped over long distances, stored safely and sold in supermarkets wherever there is a demand for these foods. For smallholders, production of the resilient cactus species provides opportunities for wealth creation and improved living conditions for rural communities.
This publication (originally published in Spanish in 2006) confirms the importance of cactus production and explores the opportunities forboosting productivity throughout the value chain from farm to consumer. The ten chapters cover the biological, technical, socio-economic and industrial potential of this relatively well-known, but sometimes little appreciated crop.
This easy-to-follow guide is based on research and development work by institutions, mainly in Latin America, and the practicalities of artisanal and commercial agro-industries linking producers with consumers. It describes harvesting through to post-harvest handling, storage and delivery to the processing plant, as well as the equipment and technologies required for different scales of production. It also highlights the extraordinary resilience and value of Opuntia spp. and the contribution it can make to agro-economies and agro-environments wherever it can be grown.