Prickly pear farmers struggle to battle insects decimating 30% to 50% of crops, while COVID-19 challenges transport of the fruit throughout the country.
Rabat – Fruit fans in Morocco should set aside a bit more cash this prickly pear season. As farmers struggle to meet consumer demand, prices for the popular cactus fruit continue to rise.
Street vendors, outfitted in protective gloves, may collect double the price per cactus pear this year. Small and medium prickly pears, which once sold in Morocco’s markets for MAD 0.50 and MAD 1.00 ($0.05 and $0.10) now go for MAD 1.00 and MAD 1.50 ($0.10 and $0.15). Larger fruits could cost as much MAD 3.00 ($0.30) a piece.
According to The Economist, prickly pear prices in Morocco can equal those of some imported fruits — a disappointing trade for those fond of the hydrating and seedy fruit which once flourished in the North African country.
Merchants attribute the upward trend in prices to an invasive species of cochineal insects that is decimating between 30% and 50% of crops. The insect, called Dactylopius Opuntiae, was first identified along the northern coast of Morocco in 2014. Since then, the pest has spread to other regions throughout the country, devastating the cactus plant and causing serious economic loss.
Wilting and browned cacti are visible along roadsides as the fruit falls victim to the pests that feast on prickly pear pulp.
The Ministry of Agriculture has mobilized MAD 80 million ($8.6 million) to address the issue. While pesticides and predator insects have helped to temporarily relieve the plant of infestation, in some cases, it is necessary to uproot entire plantations. However, the time, effort, and expense needed to replant the crop often deters farmers from opting for more sustainable solutions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to Morocco’s prickly pear crisis. With travel restrictions continuing across the country, the challenge of transporting the fruit has only exacerbated the shortage and imbalance of supply and demand.
Prickly pears, native to Mexico, first came to Morocco in the early 17th century from Spain. Not only do humans enjoy eating the fruit, it is also used to feed livestock, enriches soil, and contributes to Morocco’s biodiversity. Amazigh (Berbers) have a long history of using the seed oil from prickly pears to moisturize skin, hair, and nails.
In addition, the cactus fruit is medicinal. The antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant properties are known to reduce cholesterol, treat type II diabetes, and ease ulcers. It is rich with vitamins E, A, and C, as well as Omega 6 and magnesium.
In Morocco, vendors typically peel the prickly pear for customers to eat on the spot. At times, customers request their fruit peeled and bagged to take away and enjoy later.
With production at alarming lows and prices on the rise, Moroccans may enjoy less than their fair share of prickly pears this season.