14 Feb ’14
Moroccan Argan Oil, referred to as “liquid gold”, has recently emerged as one of the most desired resources in the world due to its healing properties and beauty remedies. It is full of Vitamin E and can work miracles on healing and protecting skin from wrinkling, stretch marks, acne, and eczema. What the cosmetic industry doesn’t know about Argan Oil however is its very limited availability and how the depletion of Argan trees is affecting the rainforests. The process of extracting Argan oil begins in the rural villages of Southwestern Morocco where women in co-ops use stones to crack open the Argan seeds which are then roasted and ground into a paste. The paste is then squeezed producing golden oil that is worth $300 USD per liter. The high demand combined with the high asking price has allowed for many rural families to grow in wealth and send their children to secondary schools. It also has helped boost Morocco’s economy by providing more jobs for unemployed women. As with everything in life however there is a cost, and the cost for this industry lies in the depletion of the Argan trees. In the excitement of harvesting, people have treated the trees harsher with rough handling of the seeds and leaves damaging the branches and its growth ability. They have also been purchasing more goats (as a sign of their wealth) who are known to climb the trees and eat its leaves. Argan trees are known to take approximately 15 years to grow and combined with its fast disappearance rate of 500 sq. km per year, Argan trees will not serve as economic resource for much longer.
Thankfully some steps have been taken to preserve this “tree of life” through the locally led Tamounte Project. This project is working towards maintaining a balance between the economic contribution and the protection of these trees by instructing women how to prepare and plant Argan trees. The community is even planting Argan trees in their own yards to most effectively reap the value. So far the operation has been 92% effective and they hope in the feature to bring in ecotourism of the trees to continue to preserve them while making money off of the travel agencies. Despite all of these wonderful efforts, Morocco is beginning to face competition with Israel. Israel was conscious of this dwindling resource and has taken it into their own hands to start growing the Argan trees in their own country. They have genetically engineered the plant to survive their Mediterranean climate and to produce ten times more nuts than the trees in Morocco. This technology and better sustainability strategies puts them at a strong advantage over Morocco. Israel, currently having planted over 2,500 Argan trees, will prove to be a worthy competitor very soon with the Southwestern Morocco community. It will be quite the fight to see in the future who will be able to maintain the upper hand on this essential “liquid of gold.”