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Green Gold: the prickly pears that can help fight food insecurity in Algeria

One tonne of grains is needed to produce one litre of oil, which can fetch more than 2,000 euros

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a prickly pear or barbary fig tree in the Moroccan region of Skhour Rhamna region near Marrakech.- AFP

For generations Algerians like the Gueldasmi family have barely eked out a living growing prickly pear fruits, but thanks to the cactus’s new found virtues their lives are steadily improving.

“Now, my future is here. There is no need to go abroad” to find work, said Fethi Gueldasmi, 40, whose family’s revenues have been growing thanks to what agronomists and biologists now call the “green gold”.

Scientific reports indicate that the Opuntia species of prickly pears which thrives in arid regions like Algeria’s northern Sidi Fredj contains a plethora of virtues.

Everything from the cactus — once considered sacred by the ancient Aztecs — can be transformed to yield nutritional and medical benefits except for its prickly spines.

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 6, 2011 shows a prickly pear or barbary fig in the Moroccan region of Skhour Rhamna region near Marrakech. (Photo by ABDELHAK SENNA / AFP)

The green spiny discs known as cladodes are used for fodder while their tender inner flesh is a star of the cuisine of Mexico, where the cactus originated and figures on its national flag.

Oil extracted from the seeds of fruit has antioxidant benefits and is used in cosmetics for its anti-ageing properties, besides being rich in vitamin C, calcium and magnesium.

The flowers of the cactus go into making herbal tea while the pulp of the red fruit is turned into juice, vinegar, jams and even sorbets.

A 2017 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) concluded prickly pears could be the answer to much of the world’s food security woes and prevent soil erosion.

In Sidi Fredj, once an impoverished town in the Souk Haras province bordering Tunisia, Gueldsami, like his father and grandfather before him, farms prickly pears.

The fruit must be handled carefully to avoid being pricked by the sharp spines. And until recently it was harvested for its tasty, sweet flesh, which only fetched a pittance of 10 dinars (US 0.08 cents, 0.07 euro cents) a piece at the local market.

Since 2013 however all that has changed with the creation of a cooperative of farmers, scientists and traders in Souk Haras, with help from Mexico, to exploit and market prickly pear by-products.

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 6, 2011, farmers harvest barbary figs in the Moroccan region of Skhour Rhamna region near Marrakech. (Photo by ABDELHAK SENNA / AFP)

A small factory was built in 2015 and oil was produced in small quantities before reaching 300 litres in 2017 and 1,000 litres in 2018.

The cooperative is hoping to increase the output seven-fold by the end of this year thanks to a new and bigger factory which opened at the end of last year.

One tonne of grains is needed to produce one litre of oil, which can fetch more than 2,000 euros (dollars) in Europe.

Algeria’s “green gold” is exported to France, Germany and Qatar and plans are being made to sell it in the United States as well, according to farmer Djamal Chaib.

Although Algeria — where most of the fertile land is free of pesticides — has no organic certification body, oil from Sidi Fredj obtained an “organic” label from European agencies and is sold as such abroad.

“While most cacti are inedible, the Opuntia species has much to offer, especially if treated like a crop rather than a weed run wild,” the FAO said in its 2017 report.

It highlighted the 2015 Madagascar drought in which the “cactus proved a crucial supply of food, forage and water for local people and their animals”.

Around 80 percent of Algeria, Africa’s largest country, is arid or semi-arid, providing an ideal terrain for farming prickly pears.

In Sidi Fredj, the Gueldsami family and others have seen their revenues increase thanks to farming and selling prickly pears.

Fathi said his family is now able to make home improvements and pay in cash for their groceries instead of signing IOUs.

His mother has also been saving money to carry out the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and Muslims must undertake the hajj at least once in their lifetime.

“Now, my future and that of my (10-year-old) daughter is here. There is no need to travel abroad,” he said.

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 6, 2011 shows prickly pear or barbary figs growing on their tree in the Moroccan region of Skhour Rhamna region near Marrakech. (Photo by Abdelhak SENNA / AFP)

Algeria is a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, with one in three young people unemployed. Many dream of travelling to Europe to find a job and improve their standard of living.

Now “hundreds of families are making a living” from prickly pears, said Mohamed Mohamedi, who heads a farmer’s cooperative in the region.

This includes women who take part in the harvest of prickly pears and young people.

The FAO said in its report that beyond its immense benefits, the “humble cactus” can help fight food insecurity, improve soil quality, promote barley plantations and may even help limit emissions of greenhouse gases.

A “cactus stores water in its pads, thus providing a botanical well that can provide up to 180 tonnes of water per hectare — enough to sustain five adult cows, a substantial increase over typical rangeland productivity,” FAO said.

“Climate change and the increasing risks of droughts are strong reasons to upgrade the humble cactus to the status of an essential crop in many areas,” said Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, in the 2017 report.

In Algeria, the farming of prickly pears has helped crop diversification as well, according to Khodir Madani, head of a university research laboratory, with farmers growing cereals and other crops among them.

Fethi’s father, Youcef Gueldsami, agreed pointing to a few pistachio trees he planted alongside the cactus.

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Mali’s new mining rules end tax exemptions

The regulatory change seeks to bring a “substantial increase” in the contribution of the mining sector

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New Mali mining law removes tax exemption

Mining companies operating in Mali will no longer be exempt from value-added tax during production and will only be protected from fiscal changes for a shorter period.

The regulatory change seeks to redress the “shortcomings” of a 2012 law by bringing a “substantial increase” in the contribution of the mining sector to the economy, the Mines Ministry said in a statement.

However, some industry watchers view the code change as a new instance of so-called “resource nationalism” and will likely spark tensions between the Malian government and mining companies.

Mali is currently Africa’s third-largest gold producer.

The regulation shortens the “stability period” during which mining companies’ existing investments are protected from changes to fiscal and customs regimes.

Changes to regulatory stability clauses have been strongly opposed by international mining companies elsewhere in Africa, most notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo where miners spent months at loggerheads with the government.

Under Mali’s previous law, stability was ensured for 30 years. It was however not made clear what the length of the new stability period would be, but the Economy Ministry said last year that the government aimed to reduce those protections to the lifespan of a mine.

“It’s the reality of the playing field at the moment, a lot of companies in Mali will have looked at what happened in DRC and Tanzania and they will have to be very cautious,” said Warren Beech, partner and head of mining at Eversheds Sutherland in Johannesburg.

Mali’s government had been negotiating with a working group of mining companies to draft a new code but said last year that it would move to implement a new law unilaterally if no compromise was reached.

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Forbes lists South Africa’s Trevor Noah as world’s 4th-richest comedian

Noah, whose ranking makes him the richest comedian in Africa, earned a whopping $28m in the period between June 2018 and June 2019

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Forbes lists South Africa's Trevor Noah as world's 4th-richest comedian
U.S-based South African comedian, Trevor Noah. (Comedy Central/AFP)

South African comedian, Trevor Noah is the fourth-highest paid comedian in the world, according to the Forbes Rich List 2019.

This is the first time the 35-year-old star has made it into the magazine’s top 10 since he began his work.

Noah, whose ranking makes him the richest comedian in Africa, earned a whopping $28m in the period between June 2018 and June 2019 from various projects, including his day job as the TV host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”.

Most of his income, however, came from his 70-stop world tour as a stand-up comedian, making him eligible for the list of richest stand-ups.

In the 2019 list, the South African came behind Kevin Hart ($59m), Jerry Seinfeld ($41), Jim Gaffigan ($30m).

Other than his tour, sources of Noah’s 2018 income were his two shows on Netflix, and book sales from his bestselling autobiography “Born A Crime”, which is still ranked No. 1 on the New York Times’ bestseller list for paperback nonfiction.

Forbes lists South Africa's Trevor Noah as world's 4th-richest comedian
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images/AFP

As a group, the top 10 best-paid comedians raked in $272m, that’s $20m less than the previous period.

The reduction in earnings among the top comedians has been attributed to reduced action among some, including Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, who came in at $30m and $35m last year, respectively.

Trevor Noah’s ‘The Daily Show’ has become quite popular, with the South African inspiring laughter from topics ranging from politics to daily life events.

Noah joined the show in 2014 as a contributor, some two years after making his U.S. television debut on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

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Zimbabwe to issue new currency notes to counter cash shortage

Zimbabwe abandoned the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009, after a bout of hyperinflation in favour of currencies like the dollar and rand

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Zimbabwe to issue new currency notes to counter cash shortage

Zimbabwe will issue new notes and coins soon to replace the country’s quasi-currency that was introduced three years ago in a failed attempt to counter a crippling shortage of cash.

The return to a fully-fledged local currency exchangeable outside the country’s borders will be backed by an undisclosed amount of foreign-exchange reserves, gold and loans, according to the country’s finance minister, Mthuli Ncube.

Zimbabwe abandoned the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009, after a bout of hyperinflation in favour of a basket of currencies including the US dollar and the South African rand.

In a bid to deal with the subsequent cash shortages, it introduced so-called bond notes and RTGS dollars in their electronic form, which are not accepted outside the country.

Ncube re-introduced the Zimbabwe dollar in June, accompanied by a ban on the use of foreign currencies-leading to a rapid erosion of spending power with the local dollar trading at almost 10 to the greenback.

Bond notes were officially said to be at parity as recently as February.

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