A group of women in central Kenya is taking on the prickly pear, an invasive cactus species that disrupts the ecosystem, hindering wildlife navigation and reducing grazing areas. This initiative, spearheaded by the Iloplei Twala Cultural Manyatta Women Group in Laikipia County, is converting the prickly pear into biogas. The cactus, introduced in Kenya in the early 1900s, spread rapidly due to various factors, including animal dispersal.
The women’s group, consisting of 203 members, has found an innovative solution to the prickly pear problem by converting its pulp into biogas, which they use for their homes and sell. Their initiative also empowers the women economically and socially, allowing them to manage communal land and resources.
Beyond biogas, the women at Laikipia Permaculture utilize all parts of the prickly pear fruit, creating products like jams, which are sold. This approach not only tackles the cactus invasion but also provides a sustainable source of income.
The invasive nature of the prickly pear poses a significant threat to the ecosystem, with uncontrolled cacti overtaking natural pasture and limiting livestock access to rangelands. Organizations like Loisaba Conservancy have employed heavy machinery to uproot and manage the cactus effectively. This strategy creates fertile zones where native plants can regenerate.
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As of June 2023, Loisaba Conservancy had successfully cleared 3,100 acres of prickly pear, marking a significant step in the fight against this invasive environmental menace. Research scientist Winnie Nunda from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International emphasized the importance of such efforts in preserving biodiversity, as the cactus’s spread disrupts native species, hinders access to pasture, and reduces pasture carrying capacities in affected landscapes.