A group of women trained by NRT to use homely scale insect called Cochineal to sack the sap from the invasive opuntia Stricta. Photo: Dorcas Linchore

Residents of Laikipia county have expressed fear over invasion of a dangerous plant that was introduced by white settlers, claiming it posed great risk to livestock and wild animals in the area.
The plant, Opuntia stricta was introduced during colonial era in the 1950s as an ornamental crop and live fence to mitigate human-wildlife conflict but turned to be a threat to pastoralist.
It now covers 50 to 70 percent of the land at Dol Dol and Naibunga conservancy area inhibiting growth of the native species and pasture for livestock.
Jane Mishani, a resident said the locals entirely depend on livestock keeping adding the spread of the cactus has given residents sleepless nights as they fight to eradicate it to save their animals and wildlife.
“This plant has caused a lot of pain to us for decades now it has even spread even more due to presence of heavy rainfall that we are experiencing in the area. We don’t know where we are going to take our livestock because there no space for grass to grow and no pasture,” said Mishani.
“Animals have been forced to consume the plant that causes mouth wounds, blindness, glochids in the intestine and prolonged consumption causes death,” she added.

Jane Mishani using the cochineal insect to help eradicate the spread of Opuntia Stricta plant Photo: Dorcas Linchore

According to Ruth Rana one of the women who have come out to fight the spread of the invasive plant, the shrubby plant attributes bright yellow flowers, purple bulbous fruit, and protective spines that goats and wild animals like elephant love feeding on without knowing the dangers awaiting.
Naibunga conservancy manager Peter Kilua said half a century ago Opuntia stricta, also known as prickly pear, coexisted with other vegetation on this part of the Laikipia plateau, noting that by 2005, the plant became full-blown threat to the community.
“Mainly, it is spread by wild animals like elephants which after they feed on its sweet juicy fruit they drop their waste which includes the seeds during migration,” added Kilua
He added that the invasion by Opuntia has resulted to decline in productive grasslands, including native forage for wildlife and livestock, leaving the rangelands severely degraded.
It is for this reason that Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT) has launched a community initiative to train groups of women from the area on how to mitigate the spread of the plant.

Addressing the locals, NRT Program Coordinator Dorcas Loingojine said the organisation is training a group of women on how to use a home-made scale insect called a cochineal (Dactylopius opuntiae), that sucks the sap out of Opuntia stricta’s leaf-like fleshy pads, making the plant wither and produce fewer fruits and seeds, which ultimately leaves it unable to reproduce.
“The plant however stands out for its tenacity, it spreads through a variety of methods, and it is painfully hard to kill elephants, baboons, and even human beings like children are accelerating the cactus’s spread by eating the fruit and defecating the seeds, and by breaking off the plant’s stems when trying to access the fruit or nearby grasses, leaving chunks to take root and grow into new plants,” added Loingojine.
She said NRT has established eighteen greenhouses throughout Naibunga covering an area of 180 square kilometers for breeding the insects.
“In the green-house we have 100 metal buckets holding prickly pear leaf pads with cotton candy-like substance that act like protective membrane that forms around the tiny black insects. The women carry the buckets to nearby fields and place the insect-infested pads at the base of healthy cactus plants where wind disperses the flightless female bugs to adjacent plants,” she explained.
While lauding NRT for the intervention the women also called on the government to help eradicate the plant, adding that it is a menace and threat to the survival of the community.
“We took up the initiative because we discovered that women and children are the most affected. We call on the ministry of Agriculture to intervene and ensure this plant is eradicated to protect our natural environment,” added Pamela Gojina a resident.
According to CABI invasive species data research, Opuntia plant has been nominated among the 100 ‘World’s Worst’ plant. NRT supports about 40 community conservancies across 10 counties in northern and coastal Kenya.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here