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How can an Argan tree stop the Sahara?
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How can an Argan tree stop the Sahara?

The world’s deserts are gaining ground in most areas of the planet. As we over-graze, over-till and over cultivate, we remove nature’s natural barriers to the encroachment of desert into formally arable areas.

Trees are clear-felled for timber and the loss of vegetation and drought drives the process.

The Sahara is expanding south at a rate of 48 km per year.

But in Morocco, there are real efforts to stop the desert at the Atlas Mountains using the argan tree.

The Berber women of the Atlas are organizing to save the tree, and their livelihoods, through village-based women’s cooperatives.

For centuries, the Berber tribes of southwest Morocco have lived in villages with their crops, their herds of sheep and goats — and of course their argan trees.

These spiky bush-like trees have deep roots and can survive even in the harshest conditions.

They also provided villagers over those centuries with critical resources — fuel for cooking and heating, timber for building, fodder for goats and cattle — and oil, extracted laboriously from the dried fruits of the tree.

Then Europe intervened and Argan oil became the most expensive table oil on the planet. And an argan boom was created in Morocco.

Through the 1980s and ’90s, the destruction of argan groves in Morocco was actually slowed and reforestation programs have been started in an attempt to reverse the process. In effect, argan oil established a new line of defence against encroaching desertification with renewed support for argan groves. These groves have now become the defence against the Sahara Desert’s constant attempts to take away more usable land.

Apart from its ecological properties which stand as shield against desertification, Argan oil has brought economic benefits to the Berber women of Morocco.It earns money for Berber communities and its export helps with Morocco’s balance of payments.

 The social aspects are that much of the argan oil phenomenon has been driven by new women’s cooperatives. This gives them a source of independence and is beginning to balancing gender roles in a largely Islamic country.


Ecological: The Moroccan argan groves cover an area of approximately one million hectares (2.47 million acres) in the country’s southwest, between the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic coast.

It is recognized by UNESCO as an important area in granting it “Man and Biosphere Reserve” status in 1998. Without it, the Sahara would already have advanced beyond the Atlas Mountains to approach the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. This would have had devastating results for the countries concerned and the regional climate.

Economic: Morocco’s argan groves were almost destroyed by wilful deforestation. This was driven by the need for fuel by fast-growing cities like Casablanca. Ironically, it was the developed world’s (re)discovery of the argan nut’s magical properties that provided an alternative economic use, which was sustainable. The nut and its oil had been in traditional use for centuries, but it was only after its properties were further developed by European and Moroccan scientists that its distinctive properties became known to a global market.

 Today, argan oil is one of the world’s most expensive oils. As much as 30kg of nuts are needed to produce one litre of oil. A single argan tree can produce only about one litre of oil per season — compared with 50 litters of oil from an olive tree, which explains the high value.

 Social: The business of harvesting, processing and marketing the argan fruit and oil is almost entirely an activity of Berber village women. They increasingly organize themselves into women’s village cooperatives in order to have some extra market clout.

Traditionally the women would perform these tasks in isolated households. Berber men would take the extra oil (beyond that needed for daily living) to market.

Now increasingly, due to sustained efforts by NGOs and by village women themselves, the activities are dominated by women as a group, who increasingly control revenues from the sale of the cosmetic and edible versions of the argan oil.

Industry associations have been created expressly to give the women a collective voice in maintaining quality control and their own employment possibilities, as well as facilitating access to the wider market.

Their efforts are bearing fruit in every sense of the phrase and maybe the world’s economic leaders should be taking a look at how these women do business and copying their methods …..

Ian Jameson How to use Argan Oil

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