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Opuntia Stricta Update : Getting Rid of a Thorny Problem

Ms. Margaret Wambua, Laikipia Forum project leader, shares an update on findings from the Opuntia Stricta mapping exercise that was supported by USAID/SERVIR

The County Government of Laikipia and its partners are doing everything in their capacity to eradicate the prickly pear cactus problem in Laikipia. These were sentiments from the Laikipia Deputy Director for Environment and Natural Resources, Mr.  John Letai.

He was speaking during the Opuntia stakeholders meeting convened by Laikipia Forum on the 24th of February at the Twala Cultural Center.

But the Opuntia stricta – the prickly pear cactus, is not going away any time soon.

Among those in attendance was Professor Shirley Strum, the Director of the Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project, in Kenya. She was keen to inform partners on the need to ensure that the selection methods used to eradicate the plant should and must be based on evidence on the nature and behavior of the plant. She as well highlighted that Opuntia is a symptom of degraded rangelands and, as a result, called for all stakeholders not only to focus on the eradication process, but also to find feasible and sustainable ways of restoring the rangelands.

World Vision noted that they have been supporting mechanical methods to get rid of the plant. This method was also being practiced by other group ranches within the Laikipia East sub-county and conservancies such as Loisaba Conservancy and Lolldaiga Ranch. It was however identified that the only proper way of using this method is to ensure that the whole plant is uprooted, dried up and buried 10ft deep to ensure that its seedlings do not spread.

The biological method, which involves the use of the cochineal insect to kill the plant, was, however, the preferred method to eradicate the invasive species. Unfortunately, biological control takes a long time, and recent heavy rains and cooler weather are not conducive to the insect’s success. They like hot, dry weather to thrive.

Laikipia Forum has been mapping the scope and scale of Opuntia stricta to identify the impacted areas in Makurian, Kurikuri, Ilngwesi and Lekurruki group ranches.

The opuntia distribution and density map will be shared with all partners and the findings uploaded to the County’s information portal on county management issues. Results will be used to support further eradication efforts, rangelands rehabilitation and management and are expected to inform the next Laikipia County budget. Conservancies continue to promote the use of biological control with the help of NRT.

As a call to action, the local communities were urged to take ownership and responsibility to eradicate the invasive species in the group ranches and conservancies, where the opuntia spread is the worst.

These efforts have been made possible through the cooperation of land owners and conservancies, and include the NRT, World Agroforestry Center, Laikipia County Government, RCMRD and USAID/SERVIR.



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