Cactus, the succulent and fleshy wild plant that grows in arid and semi-arid areas, is a huge blessing, but many do not know.
The plant has invaded many dry parts of the country, choking farms and leading to death of the animals and animal beings.
But Evelyn Okoth, a food technologist from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), says there is a huge opportunity in the much despised cactus plants.
Dr Okoth notes the nutritional value of cactus beats that of other tropical fruits in the country.
She therefore uses the plant to blend an assortment of products that include juices, wines, concentrates, yoghurts and jam made from mangoes, avocados, hibiscus and tree tomatoes. Dr Okoth who exhibited her innovation at the ongoing Nyeri show, says rather than adding vanilla and strawberry in yoghurt, additives that are synthetic, she uses cactus which is more nutrition and keeps lifestyle diseases at bay.
“My intention is to domesticate and add value to wild cactus thus increasing food security and income in the arid areas,” she says.
The juice is made from the pad of the cacti fruits, which are also eaten, with the seeds containing unsaturated fats.
Cactus, according to her, is rich in Vitamin C and A. It also adds up as an antioxidant that scavenges radicals that cause cancers as it is high in minerals such as magnesisum, calcium and iron.
“Cacti is seen as a nuisance by many people but it will turn around fortunes of people living in arid and semi-arid regions,” she says, adding that people are slowly accepting the health benefits of the plant.
Its seeds are also used to extract oil that has less cholesterol and can be used for baking. They can also be mixed with millets to make porridge.
“Cactus is very succulent and we extract the juices out of the plant to make all our products by cutting and grinding. One can also mix the cuttings of the cactus with garlic onions and other vegetables for salad,” says Dr Okoth.
The alcohol content of the wine made from the plant is 12 per cent.
Its leaves are used to treat constipation as they act as a natural laxative that strengthen body immunity and tops up to prevent muscle inflammation.
Cacti sap extracted from the leaves is further used to heal wounds and also in the cosmetic industry.
“The fruits and the leaves contain insulin that helps in the healing of diabetes as it stabilises the sugar levels in the body when taken six months to a year consistently.”
Though its leaves are pricky causing harm to animals leading to their death, the stem of cactus is used as animal fodder.
Dr Okoth tells Seeds of Gold that her project started four years ago and has been approved the Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate.
“We are not waiting approval from the Kenya Bureau of Standards for our products to hit the market. We are encouraging farmers to take up cactus farming so that it become a major cash,” she says.
A 700ml bottle of wine made from cactus costs Sh1,000, a litre of juice Sh700.
The plant requires minimum care to tend, does not need fertilisers or pesticides to prevent pest and disease invasion.