oil had been extracted , but a problem quickly emerged : animals fed even a small percentage of the meal began rapidly losing weight . The seed was therefore thought to be toxic to mammals and the waste material from the oil extraction process was discarded .
Then , in the 1990s , a Belgian scientist , Marnix Cocelaere , was attempting to find a way to make the protein in jojoba seeds more valuable to the cosmetics industry , to reduce the wasted portion of the crop and increase the profit margins of its production . He made an important discovery : the seeds were not toxic at all , but rather contained a powerful appetite suppressant . The substance , a compound called simondsin , caused animals to lose weight simply because they weren ’ t hungry . Methods for extracting the simondsin from the seeds were developed , and the seed meal became a protein-rich feed for animals .
More relevant to humans , however , is the ongoing research into simondsin as a potential treatment for obesity . The pharmaceutical industry has had a disastrous history with developing medications to aid in medical weight loss , with side effects ranging from blindness , strokes and heart attacks to uncontrollable diarrhea . Recent research into the simondsin unique to jojoba seeds as a possibly safe , natural treatment for obesity shows promise .
Though exceptionally heat hardy , jojoba struggles with frost . Hardened plants can survive temperatures as low as 16 degrees Fahrenheit , though seeds and flowers can be killed at 22 degrees . Where frosts occur , it should be planted on south-facing slopes . It can ’ t survive waterlogging , so sandy , welldrained soils are ideal . When the seedlings are being established , 18 to 24 inches of precipitation per year are recommended , so most commercial applications irrigate the plants for the first two years to ensure rapid growth and quick production . Natural stands thrive where rainfall averages are between eight and 18 inches , however ; and the plant survives well in areas where rainfall can be practically nonexistent during drought cycles .
Once the plants are established , after about two years , weeding becomes unnecessary . Jojoba does not require pesticides or fertilizers , though commercial operations often fertilize in the first two years to help establish rapid production . Once past this initial stage , jojoba requires minimal maintenance : almost no water support , no weeding , no chemical intervention for pests or soil improvements — and plants may produce for 40 years or more .
The cultivation of jojoba is extremely new in the agricultural community . Uses in cosmetics and industrial processes began to be commonplace as recently as the 1970s . The oil was explored as a possible biofuel , but production is too low to make a dent in the fossil fuel demand . Plantations have been established in several desert nations , however , including Argentina , Israel , Kenya , Australia , Mexico , Peru and the U . S . It is also used to prevent desertification in India . Jojoba is currently about a $ 150 millionper-year industry , a number which is expected to more than double by 2030 .
According to a University of Wisconsin Center for Water Policy study , 85 percent of the surface water and groundwater withdrawals in the Rio Grande valley are used for agriculture . With increasing threat of climate changedriven drought and rising population demands , water in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern U . S . is an issue increasingly fraught with political , economic and international ramifications . The Rio Grande is a vital source for more than 13 million people living on both sides of the border in this region .
The main crops irrigated in the Rio Grande basin are cotton , pecans , alfalfa , sugarcane and pastureland . In Texas , the U . S .’ s third largest agricultural producer , prolonged drought over the past two decades has been economically devastating for farmers . In 2013 , 50 percent of planted crops were devastated , and $ 100 million dollars lost due to drought conditions , particularly in dryland farms , in the Rio Grande basin . Meanwhile , the crops traditionally grown in the region are heavy water users : it is estimated that 300,000 acre-feet of water are applied to pecans in the state of Chihuahua alone each year , mostly through open irrigation ditches where there is a high rate of loss through evaporation .
Switching to less water-intensive crops may be a solution for both the resource and economic pressures that are expected to worsen throughout the region over the coming decades . Even a minor percentage of farmland turned over to a crop such as jojoba could help ease both the monetary losses of unpredictable rains and the resource pressures of an arid land with a growing population .
Though still in the early stages of agricultural development , jojoba shows promise as a lucrative crop . It is the Sonoran Desert ’ s second most profitable native plant , and it is expected to eclipse the decorative palms that currently hold the first place in that region as markets expand for its uses . Beyond cosmetics , jojoba is an industrial lubricant so sturdy it was hoped it could completely replace whale oil in the 1970s ; it can be lightly processed into a hard , solid wax , or a flexible semi-solid material . And , if proven safe in medical applications , it may be the first truly safe and effective medication to treat obesity — a turn of events which , should it come to pass , could potentially make this unassuming desert shrub one of the most valuable and lifesaving commodities in the world .
AnneJo Wedin never mentioned what happened to the small jojoba plantation outside of Marathon . It ’ s possible there are still hundreds of trees out there south of town , dropping seeds in the desert . In any event , this environmentally friendly desert native may be an avenue worth exploring for enterprising farmers , ranchers and entrepreneurs in the Big Bend region . �