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Blooming Morocco: One Argan Seed at a Time

byZuha Afzal
onApril 19, 2021

Blooming Morocco: One Argan Seed at a Time, Morocco World News, By Zuha Afzal – HAF-UVA Intern.

Zuha Afzal – HAF-UVA Intern

Deciphering effective mechanisms for long term growth is a journey that most certainly involves a variety of factors to be considered. Factors such as sustainable growth, women empowerment, clean drinking water, and planting trees are all integral in order to ensure brighter futures for Moroccan communities. Planting trees, in particular, is a unique factor that promises a greener, more vibrant, and interconnected future for Morocco. Morocco is gifted with an abundance of tree varieties, from pine forests to poplars to jujube trees. The most notable one, however, is the famed argan tree, better known as “The Tree of Life”.

Primarily prevalent in the south west region of Morocco, the argan tree is renowned for its plethora of health and environmental benefits as well as women empowerment. Henceforth, the preservation of argan trees in Morocco is a vital development strategy that ensures positive developmental growth for coming generations.

Health Benefits of Argan Trees

The overarching use of argan trees for Moroccans is argan oil which involves an extraction method that has been utilized for years. Argan oil has a valuable fatty acid profile, as it contains 13% palmitic acid, and more than 80% monosaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids including 48-59% oleic acid and 30-50% of linoleic acid. It is also noted that argan oil contains large amounts of vitamin E and can reduce harmful cholesterol and triglycerides. Interestingly, an old tradition in one of the benefits of using argan oil is that its residue can be collected and mixed with honey which makes a paste similar to that of peanut butter; hence providing another food source. The chemical makeup of argan oil proves to be especially useful in cooking foods, including a variety of salads and couscous, thus providing a healthy diet.

Moreover, argan oil is abundant in dermatological benefits as well as for hair and skin products. It may be used for growing stronger hair, treat belly stretch marks, chicken pox pustules and acne. Additionally, as with most trees, the wood from argan trees serves multiple purposes, from construction to firewood, though what is unique about wood from argan trees is that they are generally resistant to insects. Due to this fact, this would ensure that local communities are able to construct stable houses that ensure cleaner, non-infested environments.

Environmental Benefits of Argan Trees and Morocco

One of the most notable distinctions of the argan trees are the goats that grow on it. Known as the tree climbing goats, these goats climb the argan trees and can comfortably climb up to 30 ft above the ground. What attracts them to the argan trees are its fruits and leaves which, interestingly, after munching on these fruits, the seeds are recovered from their excretions. These seeds are then used to make argan oil. Thus, not only do these goats serve the farmers, which are notably mostly women, a source of income by retrieving the seeds to make argan oil, but it also serves as a popular tourist attraction which can also provide a source of income through tips from tourists. In short, argan trees and tree climbing goats have a commensalism relationship in that the recovered seeds can grow more argan trees and also provide a source of income to local farmers. Additionally, not only are argan trees hotspots for goats, but it is also a food source for other livestock, including but not limited to sheep, camels, and cattle.

As with the beauty of trees, the argan tree also serves as a source of shade and rest for travelers as well as windbreakers in times of extreme weather. Furthermore, argan trees play a significant role to combat desertification and erosion in Morocco. Their large and dense crown protects the soil and pasture from sun damage and its deep root system binds the soil and helps water infiltration, which replenishes ground water. The plethora of argan trees also prevents southern Morocco from deforestation which negatively impacts various spheres of life, including agricultural impacts, the livelihood of livestock, and drastic changes in normal temperatures. In other words, the diminishing of argan trees contributes to the negative impacts of climate change.

Women Empowerment and Development Strategies at HAF

As mentioned, women primarily harvest the seeds from the argan trees and goats which provides a source of income, and put simply, opportunities for women involvement in managing household finances. Important to note is that generally, the extraction process to finally retrieve the argan seeds is a very time-consuming. According to National Geographic, this process usually consists of two parts: First, separating animal feed, then cracking open the nuts by hand for their oil-rich kernels to make very expensive cosmetics or food. Nonetheless, it is a profitable opportunity that many farmers in Morocco partake due to the countless benefits of argan trees. In essence, this opportunity is not looked down upon rather it serves as a mechanism for the women of Morocco to be able to educate themselves on having a financial responsibility as opposed to men being the sole head of the household. Producing argan oil has been a generational aspect of Moroccan people’s lives with women taking the primary lead on this endeavor.

Highlighting this resourceful opportunity, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) recognized this and included planting trees as part of their mission to support and grow Morocco’s vibrant community. In 2018, HAF partnered with FRÉ Skincare, a woman centered beauty company that utilizes argan in its products and is set to give back to the Moroccan community by planting an argan tree with every purchase. Since the start of their collaboration, 65,000 argan seeds have been planted in an organic community managed tree nursery, and 23,075 young trees have been transplanted with seven associations of farming families in four provinces – Beni Mella, Essaouira, Oujda, and the Sahara. Thus, partnerships such as this not only instill confidence in the women of Morocco, but it also serves to combat climate change that threatens the very beauty of argan trees. Overall, be it tree-climbing goats, skin care benefits, or women empowerment, argan trees promises fruitful futures for a brighter Morocco.

The Provincial Director of Water and Forests in Essaouira confirmed that one argan tree can yield 15 kg of nuts annually. Therefore, 65,000 mature argan trees after 15 years can provide nearly one million kilograms of nuts, rehabilitate argan cooperatives, result into argan oil and its derivatives, create job opportunities, and preserve the environment by its capacity to resist hydric stress and climate change.

Alone I can save my trees, but together we can save the heritage of our children. Sustainable development can become planting trees for our children to reap the rewards as our grandparents did for us.