Invasive cactus domesticated to produce wine, juice

A section of Opuntia, an invasive type of cactus. The plant has taken up to70 per cent of the grazing land. [Photo by Jacinta Mutura/Standard]
For many years, pastoralists in Laikipia North have been affected by Opuntia Stricta, an invasive type of cactus that has blanketed their land and killed many of their animals.

The cactus, also known as the prickly pear, has destroyed the environment, brought diseases to livestock, displaced people and worsened the economy of the pastoralist community.

It reproduces by seed and vegetative reproduction through its leaf pads which become dislodged from the plant and produces roots.

The survival and rapid spread of the drought-resistant cactus has been made easier by the arid conditions in the vast area.

But today, what was regarded as a menace to the locals has been transformed into a money-minting venture.

The plant has been domesticated and groups of women earn a living from it. They harvest the fruits, wash and boil them, then blend the mixture to make juice, wine, jam and oil.

 Wine making

Joseph Lentunyoi, Director of Permaculture Agro-processing Centre at Juakali in Laikipia North, helps the women process the purple-reddish fruit to make juice, wine and jam.

The fruits are washed and blended to produce a thick pulp, which is then boiled up to 70 degrees to decontaminate.

In making juice, one litre of the pulp is diluted with two litres of water then sugar is added to sweeten it. To make wine, a litre of the pulp is diluted with three litres of water then cooled to lower the temperature to 40 degrees.

Sugar and yeast is added to the mixture for fermentation.

The low temperatures are maintained to activate the functioning of the enzymes in the yeast.

After the one-hour process, the wine is then put in jerrycans for 14 days for fermentation before it is packed for consumption.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has given the juice a clean bill of health and the wine is awaiting certification.

After processing the fruits, the seeds are dried and blended to make oil.

“We process the fruits three times a month,” said Mr Lentunyoi.

Women in Il Polei where the plant has spread so much, have been tasked with selling the fruits for processing.

Urgent attention

“It’s a job opportunity for us because we sell 1kg of the fruits at Sh500,” said Priscilla Senteina, leader of Twala Women Group, one of the groups selling the fruits.

For a community whose mainstay is livestock keeping, the Opuntia Stricta invasion requires urgent attention.

Livestock is their source of income and a status symbol for the pastoralists, who live in a harsh environment where drought occurs frequently.

According Lentunyoi, the plant has taken up to 70 per cent of the grazing land.

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