The argan tree (Argania spinosa) is indigenous to the Southwest region of Morocco, better known as the Souss. For centuries, rural Berber women of the Souss have extracted oil from the nuts of the argan fruit and benefited from its rich nutrients. In the late 1990s the first female argan cooperative was created, allowing local women to profit both economically and socially from their work. Since then over 100 cooperatives have been established in Morocco, employing thousands of rural women. As a result, employment in argan contributes to a family’s prosperity and also creates a space for women in the local economy.
Why this matters
Rural women in Morocco are often illiterate and innumerate, and have few economic and educational resources. Argan oil production is exclusively a woman’s domain and the technique is passed down from mother to daughter. The growth of female-owned argan cooperatives in the region has provided rural women with opportunities to become their own agents of development. Community stability is tantamount in Moroccan rural life. Nowadays, rural families often rely on a woman’s employment in argan oil production as a stable income; this helps prevent male migration to urban areas in order to find employment.
The environment depends on it
The northward creep of the Sahara Desert is a critical problem in Morocco and has intensified due to an increase of droughts. As the desert spreads, it damages agriculturally productive land and diminishes local water supplies.
The argan tree adapts well to drought and is vital to preventing the desertification of the region because the tree’s deep roots stabilizes the soil and decreases erosion. Both UNESCO and Slow Food protect the argan forests as a Biosphere Reserve.