Updated: Jul 10
By Lydia Grossman, HAF’s Intern
It’s impossible to travel to Morocco without encountering the Argan tree (Argania Spinosa L.) or its products. Morocco’s multipurpose Argan trees are known around the globe; particularly for Argan oil, which is used in cosmetics and cooking. While argan oil only emerged as a worldwide household name in recent decades, the argan tree has a long-standing cultural and social significance to rural communities in Morocco.
Today, argan trees are a symbol of resilience that further multiple sustainable development goals. Not only do they provide income to marginalized populations, but they also combat climate change and symbolize Morocco’s cultural heritage. As the world celebrates the International Day of Argania on May 10, we highlight the economic, environmental, and social significance of argan trees to Moroccan society today.
While argan products have long been used for medicinal and cooking uses by rural communities, argan oil’s more recent status as a hot commodity on the global market has fueled the growth of argan tree farms and the formation of women’s cooperatives that process the oil and undertake other income-generating activities. Women’s cooperatives, which are largely made up of indigenous Amazigh women, have played a key role in fueling Moroccan rural development and advancing the role of women in society. Cooperatives give rural women, who traditionally have not worked outside of the home, the opportunity to make income for themselves and thus serve as a source of empowerment for women. Many cooperatives also offer childcare and literacy workshops as a benefit to members.
Argan trees also serve an important environmental purpose in Morocco. The trees thrive in harsh conditions, making them well adapted to environmental fluctuations which are typical in Southwest Morocco and have increased significantly due to global climate change.
The trees’ deep root system and resilience to drought mean that they have been key in combating erosion and desertification in the region, thus preventing advancement of the Sahara desert. Furthermore, argan forests work in tandem with the traditional pastoralist systems (don’t forget about the tree-climbing goats!), thus providing dual economic and environmental benefits to the region.
While the importance of argan trees to sustainable development in Morocco is clear, some researchers have criticized the national strategy towards developing the argan oil industry as prioritizing commercialization over local ownership of argan production. Furthermore, climate change and overexploitation threaten the longevity of the argan forests. Looking forward, it will be important to ensure that local producers, particularly women, have a voice in shaping future developments in the argan oil industry and in the protection of argan forests.
HAF has made Argan a central part of its work by planting trees and working with women’s argan oil cooperatives around Morocco in partnership with international organizations including FRÉ Skincare, UNDP, and Ecosia. The organization’s presence in the Marrakech-Safi region is advantageous, due to the province’s high demand for argan planting projects.
In the Khat Azakane commune in Oulad Talha, a total of 6300 argan trees have been planted by HAF, generating an additional source of income for the local community, increasing employment and productivity, and creating a basis for future social development. This momentum carries into surrounding communities such as the Ejdour commune where HAF is aiming to bring back the argan ecosystem that used to thrive many years ago.
A new HAF initiative in partnership with FRÉ Skincare, is addressing this need through dividing 200 hectares of land into planting space for about 31,500 argan and 65,000 caper trees. For these local communes, the trees provide ecological services which benefit local farmers, and their implementation helps to lessen the negative impacts of climate change, such as drought, erosion, desertification, and high temperatures.
Reflecting on the past and engaging in future initiatives, HAF has confidence in the investment of argan for sustainable community development. As we celebrate the cultural, economic, and environmental significance of Argan to Morocco, we look forward to seeing how Argan continues to shape human development in Morocco in the years to come.