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EFN Jojoba Improvement Project

A long-term project aimed at developing productive frost-resistant jojoba as a renewable energy crop.

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.

Researcher background
Nate Kleinman is one of the co-founders of the Experimental Farm Network. He is an activist, organizer, plant breeder, and farmer, based in Elmer, New Jersey. His background as an organizer includes work with Occupy Sandy, Service Employees International Union, the Sudan Freedom Walk Campaign, and various political campaigns. He serves or has served on the board of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the Project for Nuclear Awareness, the Cumberland County (NJ) Long Term Recovery Group, GMO Free Pennsylvania, and the Roughwood Seed Collection.

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).
Are you seeking volunteer growers or other types of volunteers?
Yes, seeking volunteer growers
How many volunteers do you need?
What will you ask volunteers to do?
Volunteers in hot & dry areas (particular parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, and possibly in other countries) will be asked to grow jojoba plants on land where they have secure tenure for at least 5 years. Depending on the success of their plants, volunteers will be asked to collect seeds and/or cuttings for further propagation. Once plants reach maturity, volunteers will be asked to collect and weigh 100 seeds from each plant, to keep all seeds from each plant separate and properly labeled, and to send seeds as required to the researcher, Nate Kleinman. In extreme winter weather, volunteers may be asked to protect plants if possible.
Other requirements of volunteers?
Some volunteers may be asked to hand-pollinate to conduct crosses between individual plants.
Is this a multi-year project?
Can volunteers expect to be able to keep some germplasm (seeds, bulbs, cuttings, spores, etc) at the close of the project?
Yes, of course
Anything else?
This is a long-term project. It may take 20 years for measurable advancements to be made. Significant work toward the improvement of jojoba as anything other than an ingredient in cosmetics has not been done for decades (though productive old test plots still exist in certain parts of the country, typically quite overgrown). But even as we work to improve jojoba -- which we realize is not a solution to the climate crisis, but could be a piece of the puzzle -- we hope to use this project to educate people about the possibilities of agroecological agriculture to help mitigate the effects of climate change or even one day stabilize the climate.
Researcher Location

United States

Project Updates

Hi from Florida

project update by
Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 02:34

Looking to grow JoJoba on 5 acres in N. Central FL and came across this site and project. Will love to be in touch and send seeds and such when we get it growing. How awesome :)

New here.

project update by
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 09:18

Hi, all --

Interested in using otherwise marginal land for energy production and economic development.

Based in the Bay Area, but most of Northern California and a big chunk of Central Nevada is available, if needed to find appropriate acreage.

Nothing specific identified yet, but trying to get the overlap between local climate (particularly frosts, as far north as this...), soils (which co-vary with local climate, not least due to elevation, particularly rocky/sandy/loamy...), and precipitation (successful cultivation despite the lack thereof, being the key draw of trying to make this work)!

Would love to discuss cultivation, economics, key pitfalls and pearls, and anything else of note -- just basically trying to understand the current status of people and projects in this area (and -- most importantly -- what's already been done -- no point failing twice!)


-- Bryan