The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation

Community-driven, Sustainable Development to End Extreme Poverty


The Cactus-based Production and Processing Initiative

by David A. Blankinship, Ph.D.

The droughts and subsequent famines in Ethiopia take millions of lives. The Cactus-based Production and Processing Initiative is an excellent example of community-driven, science-led, sustainable solutions for reducing the impact of a famine. The on-going droughts in the Tigray region have led to changes in the landscape. Prickly-pear cactus is one of the very few plants that continue to grow in the area. This conference, held in Mekelle, focused on the use of cactus to serve as a bridging food during famines.

Mr. Peter Schmidt, program coordinator, helvetasMr. Gian Nicolay, program director, helvetasPlanning

Mr. Peter Schmidt, program coordinator with helvetas (pictured to the left) and Mr. Gian Nicolay, program director with helvetas (pictured to the right) served as the lead consultants in planning the workshop. To assure its success, they worked closely with representatives of the National Tigray Regional State Government and with the Ethiopian Social Rehabilitation & Development Fund Manager, His Excellency, Dr. Dr. Baumgaertner and Dr. GetachewAseffa Abreha (chairperson, The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation Board of Directors).

Dr. Johann Baumgärtner (Praxis Ethiopia) and Dr. Getachew Tikubet (Praxis Ethiopia) (pictured to the right) assist in planning the topical areas and the sequence of events. Professor David Rogers (Praxis Ethiopia) and Dr. Dave Blankinship (Praxis Ethiopia) also participated in the planning.

Convening the Participants

His Excellency Vice President AbadiHis Excellency Dr. Aseffa AbrehaThe Workshop began with welcoming remarks from His Excellency, Vice President Abadi Zemo of The National Tigray Regional State Government (shown on the left) and with a charge to the participants from His Excellency Dr. Aseffa Abreha, Manager (with rank of Minister), Ethiopia Social Rehabilitation & Development Fund (shown on the right).

Workshop attendees represented all aspects of cactus production, processing, and uses in the Tigray region.attendees During the workshop, attendees visited the BioFarm at Mekelle and enjoyed a luncheon featuring cactus-based dishes. At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants summarized their major points and a sub-group drafted a report to be used as a planning document for the National Tigray Regional State Government.

The Cactus Buffet at the BioFarm at Mekelle

The BioFarm at Mekelle is a new facility with the BioFarm Systems of Ethiopia. As part of the CPPI, participants enjoyed an "all cactus buffet" at the BioFarm. The dishes ranged from salads and vegetables, to meat casseroles. "Mums for Mums," prepared the meal and served the attendees; they also prepared an excellent cookbook featuring each of the dishes served at the buffet. The cookbook is written in Amharic and English.

cactus buffetcactus buffetcactus buffet

Preparing & Presenting the Report

At the conclusion of the workshop, each group prepared summaries of their topic area. The groups met to present their individual findings and to prepare an outline summary of the workshop's major findings and recommendations.

During the days following the workshop, Drs. Getachew Tikubet, Johann Baumgaertner, David Rogers, and Dave Blankinship prepared a report on how prickly pear cactus can be used to strengthen food security in the Tigray  region.

Dr. Baumgartner, H.E. Vice President Abadi, Dr. Blankinship, and Dr. GetachewThe authors presented their report to the National Tigray Regional State Government. Dr. Johann Baumgärtner, His Excellency Vice President Abadi Zemo, Dr. Dave Blankinship, and Dr. Getachew Tikubet appear in the photo to the right as they discuss the particulars of the plan to use cactus as a bridging food for people and animals during droughts.


During the past few years, thousands of people living in the Tigray region have been trained in the use of cactus as a food supplement for people and for animals. Restaurants throughout the region feature cactus-based menu items, beekeeping is flourishing, and the cactus is being mixed with other foods to serve as a 'food-bridge' during famine periods.

Newspapers across Africa have reported on the success of this project and the BBC has aired two programs on the developments in the Tigray region. Community-driven approaches work and they are sustainable.

Trainees at the BioFarm in Mekelle prepare the soil and plant cactus shoots that will be irrigated and nourished to produce a useful and important food for this arid region: the prickly pear cactus.

first crop for harvest

The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation is an independent, US-based, 501(c)(3) publicly-supported charity created to help end extreme poverty in Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa