Llaca Llaca is three hours south of Lima. There, they have been planting prickly pear cactus for many generations. They have inherited this practice from their parents and grandparents. The tuna has a very promising peculiarity. It is the fruit that grows with very little water. And it could be vital for the future.
“The penca has a special slime. In rainy weather it gets wet and stays wet. If we give it too much water, it no longer produces and breaks,” explains one farmer.
The prickly pear has a high tolerance to drought. It is one of the 50 foods of the future included in WWF and Knorr’s list. It was made to identify foods that would help sustainable food. So says a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It claims that this fruit is able to restore degraded land. In addition, it reserves water and relieves the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Llaca Llaca lacks constant water sources. The farmers usually store in underground reservoirs what they can from the rainy season. On 90% of its 15 hectares of land prickly pears are grown.
“We produce prickly pears all year round, not just for two months,” says James Bramon of the Association of Agricultural Producers. They got advice on how to improve soil quality and manage pests. One of the pests is the mealybug (Dactylopius coccus). It serves as a crimson red dye to dye food or cosmetics. “The mealybug penetrates when the tunitas are tender. We control it. Then we collect the cochineal to sell,” says Bramon.
Eighty-three percent of Peru’s food supply is supported by domestic production. This depends almost entirely on family farmers. But one million of the 2.6 million farming households are financially vulnerable. They have no savings.
The fruit that grows with very little water has a variety of uses. These would serve to expand its market. The community is considering producing derivatives based on prickly pear such as ice cream, cakes or jams. “We will have a cleaning machine with solar panels. This technology that can clean between three to 10 tons per hour.”
Nothing goes to waste. Not even the few tunas that, due to the deterioration of their shells, cannot go to market. These serve as food for the tilapia that are raised in the community. And these fish in turn nourish the water that irrigates the cacti. “We have to give this example to the younger ones. What we do today is for tomorrow. Here we have a fruit that resists the climate. And our children will be able to grow it with more technology and taking care of the environment,” say the farmers.