Potential of Opuntia seed oil for livelihood improvement in semi-arid Madagascar
The coastal area of the Mahafaly Plateau in southwestern Madagascar is prone to droughts, as well as to other environmental risks, resulting in frequent crop failures, famines, and extreme poverty. Thus, the identification of potential complementary livelihood sources has been identified as a crucial step for the sustainable development of the region. In this contribution, we assess the potential of prickly pear seed oil production as an income alternative for local communities. The prickly pears are cacti in the genus Opuntia Mill. and they are highly abundant in the region, particularly as living fences on farmland. From the seeds of its fruit, high-priced seed oil can be extracted. To investigate its economic potential, we inventoried prickly pears in field hedgerows through vegetation inventories and estimated the amount of seed oil that could be produced per household based on field sampling and laboratory analysis. To assess the socioeconomic impact of a potential large-scale project of regional Opuntia seed oil production, we conducted interviews with 51 farming households on human Opuntia consumption, the utilization of its cladodes as fodder, and other livelihood functions.
Five different prickly pears occur in the research region. We found that two out of these five species are highly important socioeconomically (Opuntia monacantha and O. streptacantha) and contribute >50% to total food intake during periods of food shortage. Likewise, these species are consumed as a key water source and used as livestock fodder. In contrast, the other three Opuntia species are barely eaten by local residents or by livestock (O. dillenii, O. stricta and O. phaeacantha). These species are more spiny, and their fruits are virtually inedible due to a much higher seed content. The combination of low nutritional value and high seed content suggests promising seed oil production potential for these types of Opuntia. To avoid competition between human nutrition and the commercialization of local Opuntia seeds, sourcing strategies should exclusively target the fruit of the two high seed species. However, investments for oil mills, skilled staff, and adequate logistics would be needed to create local value from this underrated resource in the Mahafaly region.