The ARC has an in vivo genebank containing 42 accessions of spineless cactus pear cultivars comprising Opuntia ficus-indica and Opuntia robusta species.  Since South African legislation prohibits the growing of prickly or spiny cactus pear, this genebank is made up of only spineless cultivars.  South Africa is the only country in the world – including the countries of origin, the US and Mexico – where the Burbank cultivars are still found. These “Burbank” cultivars are a special collection of spineless cactus pear and now only remains in South Africa. This genebank has been used for research purposes by the research group at the University of the Free State. It presently provides breeding material for researchers from the UFS and ARC involved in the Broadening the Food Base project.   The ARC has started a cactus pear breeding programme which will rely heavily on this genebank.  Commercial farmers from around South Africa and from Namibia have also obtained planting material for establishing their orchards from this genebank.  Cactus pear produces more biomass using minimum amounts of water.  It is a crop that is drought resistant in the true sense and is therefore will play an important role in drought mitigation in view of climate change.  An estimated 1500 ha are cultivated for fruit in South Africa producing about 15 000 tonnes a considerable portion of which is exported to Europe.  A further 3000 ha are grown exclusively for fodder in commercial cattle production.  The size of the cactus pear in terms of monetary is still variable as there is rapid expansion of the growing of the crop.  There is immense scope for expansion of production in both the commercial and rural farming sectors.  The ARC-VOP cactus pear breeding programme will be the only one in South Africa and will be able to release new cultivars that are suited to the local market requirements.

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