The Beles or Cactus Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) in Tigray, Ethiopia


Tigray is in northern Ethiopia, bordering on Eritrea. Desert conditions prevail in the east,
changing to semidesert, thorn savanna, and mountain savanna moving westward into the
tropical highlands. More than 85% of the population is reported to be directly dependent on
agriculture for a livelihood, but, with long periods of drought and unreliable rainfall,
compounded by excessive human and livestock pressures on the land, famines are not
uncommon, resulting in high human and livestock mortalities. It is in this context that the
cactus pear plays an increasingly vital role as a source of food and animal feed. It is also used
as a fuel, as a live fence or hedge, for soil conservation, and its fresh fruit as a limited source of
household income. It has become an integral and impressive part of a strategy for food and
feed ecurity. However, in those parts of Tigray where it has become invasive, it is also
considered to be a curse. It may be necessary to review some policies and practices,
particularly with regard to plantings in rangelands, and/or to consider appropriate control