Argania Spinosa is the only type of argan tree around the world; it’s a tree endemic to Morocco and characteristic of North Africa for its biological, nutritional, socioeconomic, and ecological value.
Argania Spinosa wood is an excellent source of charcoal. The tree’s fruit contains a highly nutritious oil used cosmetically and for cooking, and the leaves are used for feeding animals. These distinctive characteristics led, in 1925, to the issuance of a special legislation for the conservation of this type of tree.
The argan tree grows in abundance in arid and semi-arid regions of southwest Morocco. This climate suits the species, as it is resistant to drought and heat. In the right conditions, the argan tree can grow as tall as eight or ten meters. This tree is distinguished by its evergreen leaves. However, an argan tree can fall into decay after a severe drought.
In Morocco, there are an estimated 830,000 hectares of argan groves, totaling around 21 million trees. Almost 90% of the rural economy in the argan region is dependent on the argan agroforestry system.
The rehabilitation and protection of this tree in Morocco necessitated the concerted efforts of many bodies, including scientific research centers in Morocco, the Moroccan water and forest management, and women's cooperatives who produce argan oil in addition to the intervention of civil society institutions and associations.
In this regard, the High Atlas Foundation intervenes, as it works hard to preserve the natural heritage of Morocco, by setting strategies and projects for the purpose of promoting tree planting, especially the argan tree, due to its aforementioned importance and its status among Moroccans.
In this article, I will discuss HAF’s relationship with the argan tree from the seed to fruit.
During the past twenty years, HAF has created 11 nurseries, distributed throughout 7 of Morocco’s provinces, in partnership with different national organizations, including the: Ministry of Water and Forest, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Jewish-Moroccan community, local associations, and Ecosia. HAF is proud to work with FRÉ to support women’s cooperatives in their empowerment journey and their cultivation, processing, and sales of argan product.
Each nursery has its own story and specific goals.
In 2014, HAF formed a partnership with the cooperative and the local association of Imagdal commune, in the Marrakech region. There, the collaborating parties established a nursery for planting both argan and carob seeds - both being classified as forestry trees in Morocco.
Imagdal nursery is the model for HAF's nurseries in regards to its infrastructure and production techniques. Hassan, is the caretaker of Imagdal nursery. Hassan has a background in fruit trees, as well as medicinal and aromatic herbs. He is very passionate about tree planting.
Over the years, Hassan carried out several experiments and followed the training he received from expert-technicians from the High Commission for Water and Forests and Combating Desertification. In his research, he found that argan seeds have a specific method in planting, involving:
- Placing the argan seeds in the water for ten days until young roots begin to emerge.
- Filling the trays with compost and natural fertilizer (peat) and placing the seeds directly in the trays.
- Regularly watering the seedlings.
Under supervision and regular irrigation, the argan seedlings grow to reach a height of approximately 20 cm or more. They are then ready for distribution.
Since 2018, HAF’s partner FRÉ supported planting 33,000 argan seeds in the Imagdal nursery (50,000 total now fill the nursery), which have a 100% survival rate. After the allotted time to mature, these seedlings will be distributed to associations and women’s cooperatives in the Essaouira province that will grow the trees or extract their oil. With four cooperatives to date, the FRÉ-HAF partnership planted and monitored via GPS 806 healthy argan trees, and the monitoring and planting will continue in the late fall of 2020.
FRÉ plays an important role in encouraging women's argan cooperatives to develop their capacities, increase their products, and use their lands by providing them with argan trees. Thanks to FRÉ’s contribution, HAF planted 4,600 argan trees in 2018-2019, which they distributed to four women's argan cooperatives in the Essaouira province.
The Argan Mejji cooperative in the Mejji commune was established in 2004 and currently includes 52 women. The Moroccan National Initiative for Human Development donated $55,000 to the cooperative, aimed at improving its economic and social situation, conditions of production, and marketing of argan oil. HAF also contributed to the rehabilitation and prosperity of the cooperative by distributing 1,070 argan seedlings to the women of the cooperative and the people of the region.
The Argan Mogador Cooperative in the Ounagha commune was established in 2007, and 30 women constitute its membership. FRÉ-HAF were fortunate to plant 1,070 argan with them.
The “Azoran ouirgane” cooperative is located in the Smimou commune. This Amazigh name means the roots of argan trees, indicating the extent to which the people of the area are attached to this precious tree. The cooperative includes 12 women. These women benefited from 2,000 argan trees in 2018. They planted the trees on the cooperative land, where they take care of them and irrigate them alternately.
The “Lakjout cooperative” is in the Birkawat commune. This cooperative includes 32 women. HAF contributed 460 argan trees which were planted by the women on their private lands.
The women of each cooperative are keen on caring for and irrigating the trees. They protect the groves from deterioration, wilting, and livestock.
The cooperatives benefit from the whole argan tree, not just the oil. Every part or product of the tree is usable and represents a source of income to them. The shell, before roasting, is used as fodder for livestock. The shell that remains after extracting the oil is used to make soaps and cosmetics products (body lotions, hair shampoo). These processes are all indications for the importance of preserving the argan tree.
Visits to these cooperatives have become difficult due to the Corona epidemic, but HAF has maintained contact with them throughout the pandemic.
Amina, president of “Azoran ouirgane” cooperative, said that “despite these circumstances and despite the cessation of work in the cooperative because of Coronavirus, I love the cooperative very much, which makes me go to sit at the coop from time to time.” For her, the cooperative is a home, a place where she lives and feels safe.
Aziza, president of the “Argan Mejji” cooperative, said, “This cooperative is the source of livelihood for 52 women, so that means the cooperative contributes significantly to helping 52 rural families.” For her, establishing this cooperative is the biggest achievement. It is a message for every woman seeking to help her community financially and socially, as well as environmentally.
The argan tree is the tree of life for these communes. HAF’s seedling donations have helped almost 154 rural women in Essaouira to support their families. Each of these women has a fingerprint in promoting sustainable development, not only in the province of Essaouira but in Morocco as a whole. By taking care of this golden heritage, FRÉ-HAF in 2021 has set the goal to plant 33,000 more argan trees with these cooperatives as well as other cooperatives in their native regions of Morocco.
On behalf of HAF and all the woman who benefit from argan trees, thank you to FRE for contributing 33,000 argan trees to continue HAF’s support for women’s cooperatives that work in argan oil or other cooperatives that are interested in planting argan trees.