Preventing a prickly situation: Cactus Nurseries in Mexico

Published November 2018

Commercial cactus nursery.

Commercial cactus nursery (Photo "Disorder" by Harry-Harms is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In response to the uncontrollable harvest of cacti, the Mexican federal agency in charge of conservation - CONANP - set up plant nurseries in the Barranca de Metztitlán Biosphere Reserve (RBBM) with the explicit purpose of conserving cacti through cultivation and sustainable trade. The nurseries are managed individually by local people who know how to grow and care for these plants, and for some legal trade in cacti has provided an income. The nurseries have stemmed illegal trade in cacti and is helping ex-situ conservation of over 20 species of cactus.



Four cacti nurseries within the Barranca de Metztitlán Biosphere Reserve (RBBM), Mexico. The RBBM is a 2,090,512 hectare area created in November 2000 that includes arid tropical scrub, tropical deciduous forest, submontane scrub, pine forest, pasture, and riparian woodland ecosystems. The arid tropical scrub vegetation includes some sixty species of cactus. Biosphere reserves act as natural protected areas in Mexico.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Cacti

Products in trade

Various species of cacti, including six threatened species, which are sold mainly in overseas markets, although there is also some domestic demand.

Overview of the problem

Uncontrolled and unsustainable extraction of cacti: some areas had been completely stripped of cactus. International buyers would come to take them by the truck-load and local people would participate as day labourers.

The anti-IWT initiative

In response to the illegal trade in many threatened cacti species, CONANP set up plant nurseries within the RBBM, utilising the skills and knowledge of local people to manage and propagate cacti. These cultivated cacti could then be sold legally to the national and international cactus trade. The underlying logic was that raising species that can be marketed as well as used for reforestation and/or restoration reduces the likelihood that these species will be removed from their natural environment. Local people were invited to start nurseries - mostly volunteers who don't make a living from sales but who have other jobs. The nursery managers received support from the reserve administration to attend courses in production methods, cactus care, germination and marketing.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Further detail

The nurseries provided an opportunity to raise awareness amongst the local residents of the fact that removing cacti is a federal offence, leading them to report incidents.

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Legal trade
Further detail

Several plant nurseries for sustainable cacti trade have been supported by CONANP as an example of an activity that utilises resources as well as promoting conservation. The nurseries are separately managed, and each sell their plants on to both domestic and international markets. The nurseries provide a number of different benefits, including local jobs that enable nursery managers to make a living, although this varies and not all nurseries generate an income.

Nurseries serve as an example to other institutions to sustainably manage their resources and management have been involved in trade fairs and generated awareness of other nurseries.

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

The biosphere reserve has enhanced awareness of the cacti, with various stakeholders influencing the generation of knowledge and practices of cactus conservation at the local level. The managers have a high-level knowledge of cactus propagation, with some teaching the reserve officials about cactus management. Furthermore, some of the nurseries carry out environmental education. For example, one nursery runs a youth education programme.

Has the initiative made a difference?

It is generally agreed that the nurseries benefited from the existence of the biosphere reserve, because they have been able to conserve cacti, while also creating a source of income. In particular, both nursery and reserve management consider that the reserve stopped much of the illegal extraction, which was reduced by 80%. Furthermore, local residents now understand that removing cacti is a federal offence and they have started to report incidents.

What works and why

The change in cactus conservation practices in Metztitlán has been a result of the efforts of the local population, resident groups, federal agencies, and other stakeholders.

Current knowledge of cactus management includes the empirical experience of local residents, such as traditional knowledge acquired over centuries.

Factors for success

Supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision

Devolved decision-making power so local communities have a voice in creating or co-creating solutions (as part of the initiative)

What doesn’t work and why

The main limitation to the nurseries generating an income and expanding reach was effective marketing and it was recommended that managers receive training on how to apply for government support to improve their marketing capacity. Managers of the reserve did consider doing a market study and forming a production chain to help them market the plants, however this never got off the ground and several of the nursery managers therefore had difficulties in getting enough buyers and maintaining long term business relationships.

Organisers, donors and partners

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