Pastoral women turn cactus into biogas, wine

Florence ole Larpeiwith the range of products made from Opuntia Cactus fruit which include, wine, juice and jam processed at Laikipia Permaculture Center within Juakali area of Nanyuki, Laikipia county, February 16, 2020. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

For more than a decade now, pastoral communities living in Laikipia North are still struggling to put an end to the invasive cactus plant species.

The species Opuntia stricta invaded huge tracts of grazing land by suppressing pasture growth and has caused death of livestock at an alarming rate by inflicting wounds in their mouth after they consume the plant.

Women from the pastoral communities have come up with innovative ways to end the menace that has been a bother to livestock herders.

According to Iloplei Twala Cultural Manyatta Women group director Rosemary Nenini, cactus has invaded large portions of their land affecting pastoralists’ communities negatively.

“Opuntia is becoming a disaster because it has killed a lot of livestock, and taken away our livelihood, we have to come up with various methods to eradicate the menace,” she said.

She stated that they use a machine to grind the pulp and crush the entire cactus plant into a porridge-like substance and dilute it with water which is later transferred to a biogas digester and left to ferment for three weeks.

“We use a farmers’ machine to grind cactus mixed with water. The mixer is poured into the biodigester and it produces more gas as compared to cow dung,” she said.

She added that as they eradicate cactus they are conserving the environment as it reduces the destruction of trees for firewood for domestic use.

“In the process, we are also conserving the environment, no more cutting of trees and it saves time, a bucket of mixer can cook for four days, and by the use of biogas from the plant they save the cost of energy which reduces societal problems,” she said.

Women in Laikipia Permaculture Centre, an organisation that started in 2014 and works with Maasai women in the County to generate income by using naturally available resources, are using Opuntia to earn a living by making wine, juice and jam.

According to the organisation administrator Ms Ann Tome, they collect the cactus fruits, wash them and boil them then blend the mixture to make wine, juice and jam.

“The fruits are washed and then boiled, in juice making one litre of the pulp is mixed with two litres of water and then sugar is added to sweeten it, to make wine, a litre of pulp is mixed with three litres of water,” she says.

Florence ole Larpei, the food processing manager at the organisation says that their aim was to turn the problem into a good solution.

“To avoid over-relying on livestock only as a source of livelihood, by selling the wine, juice and jam members’ lives have improved. our products’ prices range between Sh150-250 for jam, Sh500 for a litre of juice. Cactus wine can fetch up to Sh1,000 a litre. Our target market is residents, supermarkets and other individuals,” she says.

Group members said that the innovations have greatly controlled the spread of cactus on their land and have helped them earn a living after they sell their products.

“We are killing two birds with one stone, we are making profits and at the same time eradicating the menace and also conserving the environment, women in the region have also been empowered,” Nataana says.