EFN Jojoba Improvement Project
Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), despite a scientific name indicating Chinese descent, is native to the US & Mexico. It is a shrubby perennial that thrives in its home desert, the Sonoran, on both sides of the US-Mexico border. In fact, it's said to thrive under drought conditions: the less summer rains, the better.
You may know it as an ingredient in your shampoo or hand cream, commonly called "jojoba oil." Technically, it's a liquid ester or wax squeezed from jojoba's nut-like fruit, but since it looks oily and feels oily, everyone calls it an oil. In the 1970s, as countries around the world wisely decided to ban commercial whaling, jojoba was touted as a chemically similar replacement for sperm-whale-head-oil (which was actually once an important product with many industrial uses). Scientists also realized that jojoba oil could replace petroleum!
You read that correctly: a drought-loving, desert-dwelling perennial plant that could replace petroleum. The USDA still describes jojoba as a petroleum replacement. Of course, we'd need a few million more acres planted in jojoba for that to happen, but it could theoretically be done. As a society, we could decide that burning fossil fuels represents planetary suicide -- and jojoba will be there as one realistic alternative, though it would take many years to make such a transition.
In 2014, EFN co-founder Nate Kleinman requested a number of different jojoba accessions from the USDA, in particular the rare few that have demonstrated a high degree of frost tolerance. As the climate changes, even desert plants will need to be more resilient, able to deal with both higher and lower temperatures. Everything about global warming indicates that extreme weather is already becoming normal. This long-term jojoba breeding program aims at higher yields, higher oil content, and exceptional frost, heat and drought tolerance.
As a farmer and plant breeder, Nate is primarily interested in utilizing agriculture as a tool in the fight against climate change -- while at the same time working to preserve crop biodiversity, restore ecosystems and wildlife populations, and further the cause of social and economic justice for farmworkers and all people. He speaks on food justice, agroecology, participatory plant breeding, climate change, and other issues at conferences and events around the United States.
Nate's favorite food plants include mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), maypops (Passiflora incarnata), chinquapin chestnuts (Castanea pumila), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), 'Nanticoke' squash (Cucurbita maxima 'Nanticoke'), 'Sehsapsing' corn (Zea mays subsp. mays'Sehsapsing'), 'Tracy' rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), red & white currants (Ribes spicatum), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), seakale (Crambe maritima), garlic (Allium sativum), and sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas).