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Cactus protects soil and livestock in Rhamna Region

Mazhar, M., Arif, A., Chriyaa, A., El Mzouri, L., Derkaoui, M.
Acta horticulturae 2002 no.581 pp. 329-332
Eucalyptus, Opuntia ficus-indica, barley, cacti and succulents, calcium, cladodes, cows, ecotypes, ewes, feeds, finishing, flocks, fruit growing, goats, lactation, lambs, milk, mortality, parturition, planting, rain, runoff, soil productivity, species diversity, stony soils, straw, vegetation, vitamins, wind erosion, Morocco
Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) is widespread in Morocco and is grown for pad and fruit production. There are two main ecotypes of cactus: spineless and spiny cactus. Whereas spiny cactus is the most encountered, the spineless type is limited to very dry regions such as Rhamna, Oued Zem, Settat and Aït Ba Amrane. Annual rainfall is relatively low and varies between 200 and 300 mm. The main cultivated crop is barley. These regions are characterized by a hilly landscape with shallow and stony soils. Erosion by wind and runoff is very high. Sheep and goats are predominant with small numbers of cattle. Cactus pads are fed to livestock during periods of feed shortage. They are used in conjunction with straw and grains for dry sheep and cattle and with concentrate feeds for lactating cows and for fattening. Farmers claim that cactus protects animals from deaths and abortion. Research results showed that pads are rich in calcium, and vitamin A. Straw, the main feed during dry periods, is poor in energy, calcium and vitamins. However, cactus pads are low in protein. Ewes fed a ration made up of cactus, grains, and straw are healthy, give birth to vigorous lambs, and produce sufficient milk. Mortality in flocks is less than 5%. Cactus has been used to rehabilitate denuded areas with the net benefit of soil protection and increased soil productivity. In Rhamna region, sites planted with cactus showed an increased species diversity compared to cultivated or grazed land where water and wind erosion are taking place. Compared to eucalyptus plantation, cactus field produces three times more biomass from natural vegetation.