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South Africa’s prickly pear spikes poverty

Troth Wells

Women in South Africa’s Fort Beaufort township can make a little money by selling prickly pear fruit on the streets, but a larger source of income comes from brewing the fruit into beer. Prickly pear, native to Mexico, was introduced to South Africa over 200 years ago and became a plant invader. Its succulent fruit is covered by tufts of tiny spikes (glochids), which can pierce the skin. Mrs Nowinile Ngcengele (see photo) and her friends gather about 50 kilograms of fruit per day from an abandoned farm, prepare the fruit, boil it, then add the fermenting agent – a root called mula. Next day the hooch is ready. Beer-brewing may be done by women, but most of the drinking is done by men, coming in their ones and twos to buy either a beaker of beer, or a litre container for 2 rand (33 cents). As the sun rises, so do people’s spirits – the men’s from the alcohol and the women’s from the income. While pensioners in South Africa receive 700-800 rand ($114-130) per month from the State, over the three-month prickly pear season the women can make as much as R1,000 ($163) a month extra from beer-brewing and fruit-selling – a welcome boost to their incomes.

New Internationalist issue 380 magazine cover This article is from the July 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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