Cactus could be new fodder

Cactus might prove to be the answer to protecting grasslands of Salalah as the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Research Station in Salalah has successfully grown varieties at the Qairon Hairiti area. They are now open for farmers to come forward as volunteers to try cultivating cactus as fodder for cattle and camels.
“It is grown currently in small scale as it has been at the experimental stage. Now it is up to the farmers and investors. We can support by providing them with the plants as much as we can, along with the required knowledge regarding the cultivation method and monitoring,” said Dr Ahmed al Shanfari, Director of the Department of Agricultural and Livestock Research in Dhofar, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
“Right now we are in the process of showing the crop and practically convincing the farmers how this product can be fodder for their livestock. Hopefully, we can see these products in the local markets in the near future. Our next step is to get farmers as volunteers to cultivate the crop in their own farms as pilot fields and use their success stories as examples for other farmers to follow,” added Dr Al Shanfari, who is an Agro-technology specialist in Biotechnology and Plant Molecular Biology.
While it has been scientifically proven that cactus and its fruits are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre, it has also been observed that when included in well balanced diet, cactus can decrease blood sugar level. So could it be human food too?
“Yes, it is true that cacti have many benefits and uses even if they are different species. Our next plan is to conduct workshops and exhibitions in the forthcoming months,” said the Agrotechnologist.
In the evaluation report written by Mohammed Musalam Tabook, Plant Genetic Resource researcher at Salalah Agricultural Research Station, a total of 38 accessions of cactus were received from plant production research centre, Rumais during the year 2009 and planted in the field.
The main objectives of the trial were to test the suitability of cactus as fodder purpose, to observe the fruit and seed production and to evaluate the adaptability of the lines to Salalah climatic conditions.
“Among 38 lines of cactus, 10 lines were found to be superior and suitable in Salalah climatic conditions, on the basis of vigour, number of leaf blades per plant, with fewer incidences of fungal and bacterial diseases. The varieties are continued for further evaluation in the station and for the fruit and seed production. The fruit and seed production of cactus in Salalah was observed and only three varieties came to flowering stage after 4 years of planting,” reported Tabook.
Five superior varieties were identified in the Salalah agriculture station and planted in the Qairon Hairiti Station during the year 2012 to test the performance of the varieties under mountainous conditions. It is noticed that all the five varieties are performing well in mountain conditions showing high vigour with less incidence of diseases and pests.
“Qairon Hairiti was chosen as it has different environment compared to Salalah plain. So we could compare and test the effectiveness of the plant in different climatic conditions,” pointed out Dr Al Shanfari. The crop can be tried out in other areas as well such as the Empty Quarter as it requires less water than other crops.
“Cactus requires very less water to grow, hence it is observed to be drought tolerant. During the entire growing season only 5-6 irrigation per year were given to raise the crop,” noted Tabook.