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Jojoba crops provide solution to natural oil scarcity 

Sudhir D Ghatnekar & Mandar S Ghatnekar  
Very few botanical species have attracted such wide spread attention in last 25 years as Jojoba, a shrub of the American Sonoran Desert. It was perhaps one of the most talked about and debated plant in USA.

Well, many readers may ponder what is so important about this plant species. For several years the oil of the sperm whale was considered one of the finest natural oil to be found. It was unsurpassed for use in high-speed machines on one side to cosmetic industry on the other. In between there are hosts of other products with varied applications. The demand for this oil was so high that every half an hour around the clock a whale need to be killed.

Twenty years back when USA prohibited hunting of whales as well as on use of imported whale oil both Federal Government and industry started frantic search for alternative. The obvious answer then proved to be cultivation of Jojoba plantations in the Sonoran desert of South Arizona/California and Northern regions of Mexico.

The Jojoba oil is obtained from its fruit, which is a nut, about the size of peanut, nearly 50 per cent of it, is oil. The native Red Indians used to roast the nut for food or boil in water to extract cooking oil. It has some medicinal properties too. The researchers have proved that this oil is virtually identical or in some respects superior to whale oil. The molecular structure of this oil is very tough therefore it is stable even at high temperatures and pressures unlike most of other lubricants.

The other qualities of Jojoba are as follows:
1] It has no fishy odour 2] The crude oil contains no stearing and requires little or no treatment for industrial usage 3] It takes up large amount of sulphur 4] It does not darken on sulpharisation 5] The highly sulpharised oil is liquid, whereas sperm whale oil when sulpharised requires addition of mineral oil to remain liquid

Efforts have been also made to extract hydrocarbons from Jojoba oil. Nevertheless, the main problem is relatively higher cost of production. But if one uses tissue culture technology and increase the percentage of oil then Jojoba plantations could become a very attractive proposition.

In India in some parts of Kutch in Gujarat and Jodhpur in Rajasthan intensive cultivation of Jojoba is possible. It was also found that Jojoba plantations yield improved by atleast 70 per cent with addition of Growmore biofertiliser manufactured by Suvash Biogenics Pvt Ltd at the dose of 1.5 tonne/acre. Sprays of Shoot Up and Growzyme two liquid biofertilisers of Suvash Biogenics Pvt Ltd with 1:50 dilution increased yield further by 30 per cent.

Jojoba oil in addition has several uses such as manufacture of candles, soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, chewing gums, leather processing, textiles, pharmaceuticals and many more. This oil is claimed as one of the Nature's gift to human race or liquid gold from the desert.

It is heartening to note that Gujarat State Rural Development Corporation Ltd (GSRDC), is literally breaking new grounds has in a major breakthrough undertaken commercial cultivation of Jojoba, at its Munjpur farm in Sami Taluka of Patan district. For almost one year GSRDC is cultivating Jojoba plantations on its 50-hectare farm in Munjpur plot commercially.

Several more organizations and rich farmers should undertake this cultivation on similar lines and give seeds and planting material to medium and poor armers to improve the economy of the region.

Jojoba botanically known as Simmondsia chinensis belonging to family Bixaceae grows in to a big, spreading bush, gray looking, rigid, compact in habit, about 10-12 feet in height and width.

It has several thick trunks originating from the root crown. The leaves are small, simple, opposite, thick, leathery and ashy green. The root system is not well branched instead one to several taproots originate close to the ground level and extend deep about two metres in the soil. It has amazing ability to cling on tenaciously to life even when large percent of this root system has been exposed to sun and erosion and some will continue to bear crops while much of the root system hangs in the air.

One of the limiting factors in Jojoba is its monosexual nature ie, existence of separate male and female plants. Seeds will be grown obviously only on female plants. However, some male plants are needed for pollination of female plants. If tissue culture technology is implemented then obviously one can have choice of cultivating only female plants. However normally in a farm ratio of 6 female plants to single male plant is advocated. Pollination is done normally by wind. The plant needs protection from browsing of cattle, goats, sheep and deer and even camels.

Jojoba prefers coarse, light or medium textured or sandy soil rather than thick loamy soils. Planting distance recommended is about eight feet from plant to plant both ways. Jojoba needs very little water, withstands salinity. Though no chemical fertilizers are needed per say solid biofertilisers like Growmore or liquid biofertilisers like Shoot Up and Growzyme can increase the yield by almost twice.

It is very interesting to note that Jojoba is eco-friendly or environment friendly crop in the sense that it deep root system makes it as soil stabiliser. It can be planted to beautify the landscape or on highway and roadside in green belts around the desert towns of Rann of Kutch. It can thrive on brackish water as well. The plant is being tried out in various other countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, and Israel on one side. It is being cultivated in a big way in Australia and Japan.

In India Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur undertook extensive trials fifteen years back. However, it has not reached to farming community in general.

We at Biotechnology Resource Centre feel that this plant does have immediate potential and can tremendous commercial success if the tissue culture saplings are planted. Then the deserts in the country will indeed start not just oil exploration but oil producing factories. So entrepreneurs in the region of Bhuj, Bhavnagar, Jodhpur, should seriously think of cultivating their lands with the Jojoba crops to harness liquid gold in the millennium.

(The authors are associated with Mumbai-based Biotech Research Centre)

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