Launch of Prickly Pear Products from Laikipia!
By Sheena Shah – PRI Kenya Project Coordinator
When we first visited our partner organization in development, Laikipia Permaculture Centre in 2014, we noticed this widely grown species to what resembled to us as ‘Prickly Pear’, later finding out the natives of the region call is ‘Opuntia’ – this variety is an invasive species in the Masai region and the Masai people have been looking for ways to totally eradicate and demolish it.
Our team was quite interested in the variety and tasted the delicious looking fruit off the cacti pad which was actually super delicious bursting with tangy, citric and sweet flavors. Ended up doing some research that night to understand the fruit more and found it contained a vast amount of nutrients from high levels of vitamin C and are a low-calorie, saturated fat- and cholesterol-free source of dietary fiber, contains calcium and rich antioxidant compounds. We then sat down with our team on the ground and said that we could start to use the fruit in many ways to develop value addition. We also learned that the prickly pear could act as bio fuel which we are yet to work with.
The region has been working toward eradicating this ‘weed’ since 2014. The plant is originally Mexican and has been an iconic ingredient in various South American dishes and ceremonies for centuries. Its reputation is one filled with health and prosperity. The seed was brought into Kenya’s Northern Laikipia territory over almost 40 years ago to be used as a live fence on ranches and the prickly pear was also acting as a functional purpose in keeping out trespassers at the time.
Now, the prickly pear is demonstrating its natural aggressiveness and occupies vast stretches of land, displacing pasture and challenging indigenous plants widely. The fruit produced by the cacti has attracted livestock and people and is one of the reasons why the plant has spread like wildfire in such a short period of time across Laikipia North region. The communities have been working toward eradicating the weed and are seeing it as a “problem” species is most prevalent in that part of the region and are somewhat experiencing moderate-to-serious livestock health problems due to prickly pear/opuntia ‘infestation’.
We do believe in simple yet effective solutions and have been assisting the groups that we work with to harness and use the prickly pear fruit to its fullest ability as part of our Regenerative Enterprise work. We know that the control can positively or negatively impact wildlife habitat, depending upon the control method used, size of the treated area, pattern of application, efficacy of the treatment, other plants available in the habitat, and the habitat requirements of the wildlife species of interest. There is yet more research required in this area and we do have some students studying on the density of the production. The women’s groups we work with have recently started producing delicious jams, juices, wines and soon we will begin to research on the use of bio fuel. We also know that the entire plant can be consumed. In Mexico, they eat the padding as well which has some beneficial nutrients and gives an interesting crisp to dishes once steamed. PRI Kenya have now brought in their Prickly Pear Jam on to the shelves across Nairobi in partnership with local branders. The jam is probably one the tastiest spreads yet. It’s most definitely a Kenyan equivalent to cranberry sauce and BETTER!
The products are enjoyed in Laikipia and a lot of our course participants enjoy eating it and drinking the prickly pear wine. The groups are making use of the fruit to its best ability and creating livelihoods. While we know this may not be the permanent solution battling with this invasive species, we do know we are taking small measures to control this issue. Whilst creating value addition, we are aiding in preventing the spread of seeds. From the research conducted is that we need to be working with communities and ranchers who are looking for ways to control the plant as we realize with combined efforts especially with the future rangelands management programming, we will be able to manage the infestation better than bringing in the ‘cochineal’ insect to disrupt the process. If we could crash the pad (cladode) for animal feed/biofuel, we could win the battle. We believe that the support in this project could strengthen communities affected and have them be part of the solution but in a sustainable way.
Our PRI Kenya Regenerative Enterprise Programme took off in 2014 and has been growing since and now we are happy to keep adding more sustainable and all natural handmade products on to the shelves. Our partner organizations are now building up their capacity as PRI sees this as their financial sustainability strategy. This is boosting our farmers to work toward long term cash crops integrated in to their permaculture demo sites with the aim of food security and resilience at heart. PRI Kenya has partnered with local branders of Ma Cuisine, Nairobi to start distributing the prickly pear jam to supermarkets such as Chandarana, Langata Link Shops, Nakumatt and Spring Valley Supermarket and can be found in gourmet stores such as Wasp & Sprout in Loresho and Green Spoon Online store. Here is the link to the Green Spoon online store – http://www.greenspoon.co.ke/shop/#!/Prickly-Pear-Jam/p/79960256/category=19391310 – where you can order it online and have it delivered straight to you! This delightful, tangy and sweet jam tastes super scrumptious on warm buttery toast or even on your red meats and crispy bacon! YUM!
We appreciate the support of our well wishers and donors that are going a long way in contributing to the solutions we are heavily working toward.