The Penghu County Government plans to protect cacti that grow on the county’s 90 islands because they are threatened by an increasing number of prickly pear pickers. Although cacti are endemic to Penghu County, their economic value has only recently been noticed because of the development of tourism.
Prickly pears — fruits from a variety of cactus — are now used to make pastries, juice, vinegar, ice cream or as a cooking ingredient.
“As prickly pears gain popularity, more people in Penghu now work as part-time cactus fruit pickers for extra income,” Penghu County Government’s Agriculture and Fisheries Bureau Director Cheng Ming-yuan (鄭明源) said via a telephone interview. “This is good news and bad news at the same time.”
The good news is that the growing popularity of prickly pears has created a new industry in Penghu, with the county government planning to create cactus farms and encourage cactus horticulture. However, the bad news is that inappropriate practices in picking the fruit are threatening wild cacti in the county, Cheng said.
“For example, in order to get to the center of a cactus bush to get to the fruit, some people place large wooden boards horizontally over the bush and simply walk into it using the board,” he said. “Cacti on the perimeter of the bush wind up dead when they do that.”
Because of inappropriate fruit picking practices, Cheng said he has observed a decline in cactus vegetation in some areas of the county and is worried that wild cacti may soon disappear if the county government doesn’t intervene.
“We do realize that we can’t have people patrolling cacti since we don’t have that many people and that much money. But we’ll try to ask each village to take care of the cactus fields near them. We’ll also leave space in between cacti so that the fruit can be more accessible to pickers,” he said.
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