Desertification of Jaffna and Jojoba


Fears have been expressed (The Island, 3 June 2017) that, resulting from climate change, the Jaffna peninsula may become semi-desert in the not-too-distant future. It would be timely in this context for a team of agricultural scientists, industrialists and entrepreneurs to study this possibility and determine whether semi-desertification may, in fact, prove to be of great benefit to the people of Jaffna. They could study, for instance, the jojoba plantations in semi-deserts in the US and elsewhere.

In the US, when the Native Americans (Red Indians) were finally put down, they were often given ‘reservations’ (‘traditional homelands’) in portions of the lands taken over by the government. These were often in inhospitable desert or semi-desert (‘unproductive’) regions.

Unfortunately, by a quirk of fate, these inhospitable regions have been found to be ideal for the cultivation of the jojoba plant. The jojoba plant (Simmondsia chinensis) is a shrub which can withstand high salinity, grow to over 3 metres tall and live for 150 years. Despite its botanical name it is not native to China, but it is native in (among others) the Sonoran Desert (US), Colorado Desert (US) and the Baja California Desert (Mexico). It is extensively cultivated in Argentina, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Peru and the US.

The jojoba plant can be used to provide jojoba oil, among other high value products. This finding led to moves by industrialists to take back suitable semi-desert reservations, which had been previously ceded to the relevant Red Indian tribe.

The Red Indians used jojoba mainly for various health-related purposes. Possible uses of jojoba oil today include 1) an alternative (sulphur-free) biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks, 2) engine lubricating oil, 3) cooking oil, 4) pharmaceutical products and 5) rubber production.

It may well prove that the semi-desertification of the Jaffna peninsula becomes, in due course, a golden opportunity for some industrious entrepreneurs of the region.

Dr. Rohan Wickramasinghe

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