Paolo Inglese Filadelfio Basile and Mario Schirra


The Cactus Pear Industry Worldwide Supply and Demand Analysis Selling Arrangements and Methods The Cactus Pear Orchard Site Selection Cultivars

Orchard Design and Planting Plant Training and Pruning Fruit Thinning Fertilizer Application Irrigation Fruit Characteristics Harvesting Productivity Out-of-Season Crop Quality Postharvest Physiology Conclusions and Future Prospects Literature Cited


Cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica [L.] Mill.) is cultivated for fruit production in both hemispheres and on all continents except Antarctica. The absence of updated statistical data from most countries in which this species is cultivated allows only a rough estimate of the worldwide land area used—about 100,000 hectares (ha) for specialized plantations. This figures does not include utilization of wild plants or those cultivated for self-consumption in home gardens or in small horticultural systems, which are common in Mexico (nopaleras de solar), Africa, the Middle East, South America (huertos familiares), and southern Europe (Mediterranean gardens).

During pre-Hispanic times, cactus pear fruits were especially popular among the indigenous populations of the arid and semiarid areas in their native Mexican highlands, and the fruit maintained its basic role in the local diet even

Figure 10.1. Pruning flowers and new cladodes of Opuntia ficus-indica via scozzolatura in June 2000, leading to a second bloom, in Santa Margherita Belice, Italy. The plantation of cultivar 'Gialla' is 10 years old, and the plants are spaced 4 m apart along rows that are 6 m apart.

after the Spaniards conquered the Aztec empire. Cactus pear reached the Mediterranean Basin during the 16th century. It became naturalized and the fruit was soon popular among the rural populations (Barbera 1995). At the beginning of the 19th century, commercial plantations were established on the island of Sicily (Barbera et al. 1992) to meet the increasing demand for late-ripening fruits, produced through scozzolatura (Fig. 10.1). This technique consists of removing the spring flush of flowers and cladodes to get a second bloom, causing the fruits to ripen in October to November (Northern Hemisphere), 2 to 3 months later than the summer crop (Barbera and Inglese 1993). These fruits were highly appreciated, not only by the rural population, but also by the middle class and the aristocracy of the Kingdom of Naples (Barbera 1995). More recent is the diffusion of the species as a fruit crop into Argentina (Ochoa 1997), California (Curtis 1977), Chile (Sudzuki et al. 1993), Israel (Nerd and Mizrahi 1993), and South Africa (Wessels 1988). In all these countries, cactus pears occur in naturalized stands and in commercial plantations for fruit production, both for subsistence agriculture and as a cash crop. This chapter outlines the basics of cactus pear cultivation, including economic features and postharvest fruit management.

The Cactus Pear Industry Worldwide

As indicated, statistics on the world area cultivated for cactus pear as well as its production, employment, and export figures are limited. The main producing country is Mexico, with a production of over 345,000 tons fresh mass year-1 on about 70,000 ha of specialized plantations, concentrated mainly in the north-central region—Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato —and in the south-central region —Hidalgo, Mexico, Tlaxcala, and Puebla (Flores Valdez et al. 1995). Italy is the most important cactus-pear-producing country in the Mediterranean area, with about 3,500 ha of intensive plantations yielding about 70,000 tons (Basile and Foti 1997), and 15,000 ha overall. Sicily accounts for nearly all of the Italian production (Barbera and Inglese 1993). The area for intensive cactus pear plantations has expanded remarkably in the last few years, leading to 35,000 tons annually in 1975-78, 48,000 tons in 1987-90, and 63,000 tons in 1997-99. About 90% of the areas under intensive cultivation in Sicily are in three major production zones: the San Cono Hills, Santa Margherita Belice district, and the southwestern foothills of the Etna volcano.

The species was introduced to South Africa during the 17th century, and it became naturalized in the Cape region. Naturalized spiny or spineless cactus pear plants are most abundant in the Eastern Cape, where commercial cultivation is relatively unimportant. The Western Cape is South Africa's major deciduous fruit growing area, but there are few commercial cactus pear orchards, even though the potential seems good, provided some supplementary irrigation is possible in the summer. Recently, expansion of commercial orchards has occurred in the Northern Province and the Ciskey region, stretching from Gauteng Province to Mpumalanga (Brutsch 1997; Brutsch and Zimmermann 1993). The total area cultivated in South Africa is 1,000 ha, with an annual production of about 8,000 tons. In Chile, specialized plantations are cultivated in the Santiago metropolitan area, on about 1,100 ha, which supply over 8,000 tons of cactus pears. Cactus pear is cultivated to a lesser extent in Argentina (800 ha and 7,500 tons), Israel (300 ha and 6,000 tons), and the United States (200 ha and 3,600 tons; Bunch 1996; Ochoa 1997; Nerd and Mizrahi 1993). Specialized plantations for cactus pear exist in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Spain, Greece, Turkey,

Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia (e.g., 16,000 ha recently planted near Kasserine), Algeria, and Morocco, but comprehensive statistics are not currently available.

Orchard management requires a high degree of hand labor, with poor potential for mechanization (Basile and Foti 1997). The labor costs, which do not include harvesting and the successive operations, range from 130 to 340 hours ha-1, of which over 70% are due to pruning, fruit thinning, and scozzolatura (Fig. 10.1). Flores Valdez et al. (1995) report that fruit harvest and pest control account for most of the annual cost of a cactus pear orchard in Mexico, while postharvest management, including fruit marketing, account for 28 to 40% of the total cost. Profits, although positive, vary greatly in Italy as well as in Mexico and South America. The large number of commercial operators and the poor concentration of supply, together with poor distribution and marketing of the product, considerably restrain the market potential. To avoid further price drops due to an increase in the product's supply, proper marketing strategies must be adopted.

Supply and Demand Analysis

Demand for cactus pear in Italy is concentrated almost entirely from August to December. The reduced quantities consumed from March to May come from the Southern Hemisphere for those consumers seeking out-of-season fruits. In Italy, the demand for fruit from the summer crop and/or that belonging to a medium-low commercial category generally comes from low-spending-capacity consumers of cactus pears in the production zones themselves, and in those areas of northern Italy with high concentrations of southern and Sicilian emigrants, religious communities, and the armed forces. On the other hand, the demand for late-ripening fruits, obtained through scozzolatura, comes from medium-to-high-spending consumers, who associate the cactus pear with exotic fruit. Because the price of cactus pears has not fluctuated widely, the demand elasticity with respect to price is not known, although it is not elastic for low-quality fruits, and the demand for higher-quality fruit is more elastic. The cactus pear demand is relatively inelastic with respect to the earnings of consumers in lower social echelons and tends to be elastic for well-off consumers. In Italy, more than 25% of the cactus pears remain in Sicily, 20% go to foreign consumers, and more than 50% are consumed in other Italian regions, particularly where there are residents of Sicilian origin and emigrants from producing countries (such as North Africa), as well as pockets of high-spending consumers. In Mexico, the most important national markets are the large cities located in the north, as well as the medium-to-high-spending metropolitan consumers in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterey (Flores Valdez et al. 1995).

The main factors that influence demand are: (1) presence of glochids and spines (which require adequate postharvest de-prickling management), (2) fruit color, (3) seed content, (4) size of the fruit, (5) time of ripening, (6) degree of maturity, and (7) packaging. Cactus pear demand has definitely grown both in Europe and elsewhere. Although no precise official statistical information is available, the trend is supported by increasing exports of the producing countries. Differences in the commercial ripening seasons and improvements in distribution have contributed to this product being consumed in many countries, over many months of the year. Indeed, at a world level, the complementary production of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres could potentially allow the fruit to be present on the market all year (Inglese 1994). Mexico exports 2,000 tons, mainly to the United States and Canada, where most of consumers are Latinos. Italy exports to Canada, the United States, and other European countries, such as France and Belgium and, to a lesser extent, to Germany, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland; consumers often come from Sicilian and other Mediterranean communities. Israel exports less than 100 tons per year, mainly to France, while South Africa exports an undefined amount of fruits to England and France. Chile and Argentina have a low export level to the United States and Canada.

The per capita consumption of cactus pears as fresh fruit is presently at about 2.5 kg year-1 in Sicily, and fluctuates from a few hundred grams to 1 kg year-1 for inhabitants of the other regions of Italy. Flores Valdez et al. (1995) estimate an annual consumption of 3.7 kg year-1 in Mexico. Minimal demand occurs for cactus pear derivative products (jams, mostarda, ice cream, liqueurs, queso de tuna, arrope), which are mostly concentrated in the producing areas (Sicily and Mexico), within the producing families themselves, and for workers involved in the cultivation of the plant in production units. Most common is the self-production for personal consumption of these products, which also extends to confectionery craftsmanship. The development of this kind of product should play an important role in the cactus pear industry in the near future.

In Italy, 85 to 90% of the fruit is harvested, with fluctuations from year to year relating to undersized fruits, adverse meteorological conditions, and pathogens. More than 90% of the annual crop comes from the late fruits obtained by scozzolatura, whereas the summer crop is pro-

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