This particular species of cactus is thornless and is common to arid and semiarid parts of the world where it is consumed.
Pune-based BAIF Development Research Foundation (BDRF) has now decided to promote the use of cactus as a fodder for cattle.
The 5Ws and H of Journalism–Who, What, Where, When, Why and How–raced through my mind (and I’m sure yours too) when I learnt about this.
As it turns out, this particular species of cactus, Opuntia ficus, is being used as a fodder for cattle and also as food for us, Homo Sapiens.
This particular species of cactus is thornless and is common to arid and semiarid parts of the world where it is consumed. It is especially popular in Mexico, where the fruit of the plant is used to make jam and jelly. In fact, Mexicans have also used the Opuntia for thousands of years to make an alcoholic drink called colonche.
So how is this used for cattle fodder?
The cattle industry of the Southwest United States began to cultivate the Opuntia as a fresh source of feed for cattle. And soon, it became popular in Brazil and Mexico.
The advantage of using this cactus as fodder are enumerated below:
- As it can be grown in arid and semi-arid regions, it requires very little water for cultivation. It has high water-use efficiency (WUE), i.e. to produce 1 kg of dry matter, it needs 267 kg of water against 400 kg required for pearl millet.
- The plant is great during heavy monsoons as well. Due to high rain-use efficiency (RUE), it can produce 40 kg of dry matter/mm/year of rainfall against 25 kg in pearl millet.
- It has the potential to produce a large quantity of palatable and nutritious green fodder for the livestock for lesser labour.
- The entire plant can be used for green fodder, and there is nothing that goes to waste.
- The nutritional quality is off the charts. It is rich in vitamin A and water-soluble carbohydrates. Forage quality is comparable with several other cultivated fodder crops.
- It is an excellent source of water too as 90% of its composition is liquid.
- It is suitable for a range of soils. And not only that, it can help fight soil erosion, combat desertification and reclaim degraded land.
- And it has a high potential to capture carbon both in soil and in the air, thereby reducing carbon emissions in the region.
Ravi Kote, senior thematic programme executive of the institute, said the plant could be especially useful in January, when there is a shortage of green fodder. “Based on our experiments in Uruli Kanchan, we can say this cactus has proved beneficial,” he told Indian Express.
With all these advantages, this species of cactus is sure to be useful and popular among farmers.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)