Farmers in Rajasthan, particularly in Bikaner and Jodhpur, are buying up tracts of land, in some cases across a couple of districts, to plant the jojoba (pronounced ho-ho-ba) shrub, the seeds of which contain an oil that is used as a moisturizer in bathing soaps and cosmetic products.
“Farmers have already planted jojoba seeds in around 500 hectares of land. And I have heard of a particular group who by themselves plan to buy another 400ha for jojoba cultivation,” claims S.S. Shekhawat, chief executive and secretary, Association of the Rajasthan Jojoba Plantation and Research Project (Ajorp), an agency set up by the state government in 1995.
The Rajasthan government has optimistically labelled the shrub of Mexican origin “desert gold” and is aggressively promoting its plantation in the state even as farmers in Gujarat and Maharashtra have also started planting the new crop in the hope of striking it rich.
Jojoba is a plant that is known to live up to 200 years. The oil extracted from its seeds is used by the cosmetics industry due to its ability to cleanse the skin better than most oils.
Hindustan Unilever Ltd, for one, has been using the oil in its Lux brand of soap and advertises this on the packet. A company spokesperson did not respond to Mint’s request for comment.
Farmers can begin harvesting the jojoba seeds from the fourth year. The crop is sold to traders who extract the oil, Shekhawat said. The per hectare internal rate of return (IRR) on jojoba is 37%, he maintained. The alternative investment option is in jatropha, the oil of which is used in the bio-diesel industry.
“The difference between jojoba and jatropha is that the former already has a market as many companies in the cosmetics industry would look to switch to this oil if they are assured of a regular supply,” says Shekhawat. Another use for the oil is being explored in the lubricant market. Fourteen patents have been filed by the Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun, for using jojoba oil as a lubricant in various automotive segments.
Ajorp has already established and developed two model jojoba farms in Rajasthan—one at Fatehpur (Sikar district) and the other 37ha farm at village Dhand (Jaipur district) in association with Haigud, an NGO based in Israel. The third model jojoba farm, spread over 50ha, has been established in collaboration with the Gujarat State Rural Development Corp. at Mujpur in Patan district.
Last year, 10 tonnes of jojoba oil was extracted and sold in the domestic market by farmers in Rajasthan. The current market price is Rs712 per kg. Ajorp only facilitates sale in the domestic market as there is not enough oil being extracted to meet domestic demand.
Most of the firms that now buy jojoba oil are mid-size ones in the cosmetics industry based in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Mumbai.