Sun, Feb 17, 2019 - Page 15 News List

‘Humble cactus’ bringing hope of ‘green gold’ to rural Algeria

By Amal Belalloufi  /  AFP, SIDI FREDJ, Algeria

Gueldsami said that his family is now able to make home improvements and pay in cash for their groceries instead of signing debt notes.

His mother has also been saving money to carry out the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

“Now, my future and that of my [10-year-old] daughter is here. There is no need to travel abroad,” he said.

Algeria is a country of 40 million where half the population is younger than 30, with one in three young people unemployed. Many dream of traveling to Europe to find a job and improve their standard of living.

Now, “hundreds of families are making a living” from prickly pears, said Mohamed Mohamedi, who heads a farmer’s cooperative in the region.

This includes women who take part in the harvest of prickly pears and young people.

The FAO report said that beyond its immense benefits, the “humble cactus” can help fight food insecurity, improve soil quality, promote barley plantations and might even help limit emissions of greenhouse gases.

A “cactus stores water in its pads, thus providing a botanical well that can provide up to 180 tonnes of water per hectare — enough to sustain five adult cows, a substantial increase over typical rangeland productivity,” the FAO said.

“Climate change and the increasing risks of droughts are strong reasons to upgrade the humble cactus to the status of an essential crop in many areas,” FAO Plant Production and Protection Division director Hans Dreyer said in the report.

In Algeria, the farming of prickly pears has helped crop diversification as well, said Khodir Madani, head of a university research laboratory, with farmers growing cereals and other crops among them.

Gueldsami’s father, Youcef Gueldsami, agreed, pointing to a few pistachio trees he planted alongside the cactus.

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