Argan oil is a prized ingredient in the world of cosmetics and culinary arts, known for its anti-aging properties and unique flavor. But where does this liquid gold come from?
In this article, we’ll explore the countries that produce argan oil and the impact it has on local communities. From the finicky argan tree to women-run cooperatives, we’ll take a closer look at the fascinating world of argan oil production.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of this precious oil.
What Countries Produce Argan Oil?
Argan oil is primarily produced in Morocco and southwestern Algeria, where the argan tree (Argania spinosa L.) is indigenous. Morocco, in particular, is the leading producer of argan oil, with more than 4,450 tons produced annually.
The argan forest in Morocco covers over 800,000 hectares and grows virtually nowhere else in the world. The process of extracting the oil from the kernels of the argan nut is complicated and requires intensive manual labor. This has led to the formation of women-run cooperatives that produce and sell argan products, providing a sustainable income for women in a male-dominant society.
The Origin Of Argan Oil
Argan oil has been used for centuries by Berber women in Morocco for its many virtues. The argan tree, Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels, is deemed to be an important forest species from both social and economic standpoints. The tree is indigenous to Morocco and southwestern Algeria, and the argan forest in Morocco covers over 800,000 hectares. The tree is finicky, and the process of extracting the oil from the kernels of the argan nut is complicated and requires intensive manual labor.
Traditionally, women in Morocco have done the work of producing argan oil at home for the family’s use. However, increased demand from outside the community has led to the formation of women-run cooperatives that produce and sell argan products. These cooperatives provide women with a sustainable income outside of the home, which leads to social change that improves quality of life, increases literacy rates, and expands opportunities for current and future generations.
Argan oil has rapidly emerged as an important product able to bring more income to the local population. In addition, it also has important environmental implications, owing to its ability to stand against desert progression. Extraction technology has been evolved to obtain high-quality argan oil at a large scale. Currently, argan oil is mainly produced by women’s cooperatives in Morocco using a semi-industrial mechanical extraction process.
The popularity of argan oil has grown worldwide due to its cosmetic properties and qualities. Different companies in Europe and North America distribute argan oil around the globe, making it a relatively international product exported from Morocco. Despite its growing global market for luxury cosmetics and culinary use, argan trees grow only in Morocco and southwestern Algeria, making it a precious resource for these regions.
The Argan Tree: A Finicky Plant
The argan tree is a finicky plant that requires specific conditions to thrive. It is a horticultural forestry species that is endemic to the semi-desert regions of southwestern Morocco. The trees grow in a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic coast and the Atlas Mountains, where they form the backbone of a complex and fragile ecosystem.
Despite its limited geographical distribution, the argan tree presents large genetic diversity, suggesting that improvement of argan cultivation is possible. This species plays important ecological and socioeconomic roles in the sustainable development of Morocco. The integration of arganiculture into Moroccan agricultural policy has been implemented through a sector strategy, which is fully aligned with the conservation and regeneration of argan forest.
The argan tree is suitable for incorporation into different agroforestry productive systems under an agro-fruit-forest model. Its domestication will provide a powerful means of socio-economic and environmental management. However, the argan tree is also threatened by human activities such as overgrazing, overuse of wood for fuel, and expansion of agriculture and urbanization.
The production of argan oil requires intensive manual labor, as the process of extracting the oil from the kernels of the argan nut is complicated. The tree produces small yellow fruits that contain a large nut about 1 cm in diameter. Inside this nut are one to three drop-shaped seeds or kernels that are smaller than sunflower seeds but rich in valuable oil. It takes 44 pounds (20 kg) of kernels to produce one quart (one liter) of oil.
The Berber women of Morocco have used argan oil for centuries because of its unique properties, which are said to be superior to those of olive oil. Its natural antioxidants are believed to have numerous positive effects on skin and health by neutralizing free radicals. The oil protects the skin from drying out and makes it feel soft and supple. It is reputed to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fortify brittle nails and dry hair, and support mature skin.
Women-Run Cooperatives: Empowering Local Communities
The women-run cooperatives that produce argan oil have become a vital source of empowerment for local communities in Morocco. These cooperatives are structured with the aim of having all employees equally and democratically involved in all decision-making processes, with annual meetings where members vote on who should be part of the board and administration.
For centuries, women in the argan forest area did not partake in the income-generating workforce. However, employment opportunities at argan oil cooperatives have given women a resource they did not hold before. These cooperatives have provided opportunities for women to work outside the household and contribute to changing the rules and norms in Amazigh society that have prevented women from seeking employment outside the household.
The resources these women are given and the meaning and motivation they bring with them to work at argan oil cooperatives act as steps on the way to increased empowerment. Women working in these cooperatives are offered free afternoon classes in rudimentary education, including literacy skills and hygienic practices. A percentage of the profits made by these cooperatives is also invested in the rural community, improving both the economic and educational status of Berber women.
These cooperatives have also become an important source of income and food for local communities. The oil is traditionally used as a flavouring and a savoury dip for bread, but its use as a beauty product has created a surge in demand for the oil by international cosmetics companies. This has led to local groups investing in more appealing packaging, with the oil now costing around $30-50 a litre locally, but selling on the international market in smaller high-end bottles for up to $250 a litre.
Morocco: The Leading Producer Of Argan Oil
Morocco is the largest producer of argan oil in the world, with over 4,450 tons produced annually. The argan tree is indigenous to Morocco and grows in the semi-desert southwestern region of the country. The argan forest in Morocco covers more than 800,000 hectares and is a natural barrier against the advance of the desert, preventing soil erosion and protecting water resources.
The process of extracting argan oil from the kernels of the argan nut is complicated and requires intensive manual labor. Traditionally, this work has been done by women in their homes for their families’ use. However, increased demand from outside the community has led to the formation of women-run cooperatives that produce and sell argan products. These cooperatives provide a sustainable income for women in a male-dominant society and have led to social change, improving quality of life, increasing literacy rates, and expanding opportunities for current and future generations.
The production of argan oil is helping to preserve the argan tree, which has been threatened with deforestation due to locals chopping down trees for building materials and firewood. By involving local people in the production process and paying them fairly, they are less likely to cut down the protected trees. The production process itself does not damage the tree at all, as only fruit that has fallen to the ground is picked.
In addition to its economic benefits, argan oil has numerous health benefits. It is rich in Vitamin E, A, and C, omega fatty acids, and antioxidants that are great for healthy hair and skin. Argan oil is used in many cosmetic products like face creams, soaps, shampoos, and moisturizers. It is also used for culinary purposes in Morocco, where it is used to dip bread in at breakfast or drizzled on couscous or pasta.
Other Countries Producing Argan Oil
While argan oil is primarily produced in Morocco and southwestern Algeria, there are some other countries that also produce small amounts of this valuable oil. These countries include Israel, Mexico, and Spain.
In Israel, argan trees were introduced in the 1990s and are now grown in the Arava desert. The Israeli argan oil industry is still in its early stages and produces a limited amount of oil, mainly for cosmetic use.
In Mexico, argan trees were introduced in the 20th century and are now grown in the state of Sonora. The Mexican argan oil industry is also small, with most of the oil produced for cosmetic use.
In Spain, argan trees were introduced in the 16th century and are now grown in Andalusia. The Spanish argan oil industry is still developing and produces a limited amount of oil, mainly for culinary use.
However, it’s important to note that the quality and authenticity of argan oil produced outside of Morocco is often questioned due to the lack of regulations and standards. Therefore, it’s recommended to purchase argan oil from reputable sources that guarantee its authenticity and quality.
The Impact Of Argan Oil Production On The Environment And Local Economy
The surge in demand for argan oil globally has had a significant impact on the environment and local economy in Morocco. While the argan tree plays a crucial role in preventing soil erosion and maintaining water resources, the aggressive harvesting of the fruit has threatened the survival of the tree. In some cases, workers have resorted to whacking the trees with sticks to get the fruit to fall faster, which is harmful to the trees.
Moreover, overgrazing by goats, which climb the gnarled trunks of the argan trees to eat their bitter fruits, has also posed a threat to the growth of argan trees. To protect the trees from overgrazing, seasonal goat bans have been put in place. The increase in demand for argan oil has also led to deforestation, as farmers clear land to plant more argan trees.
On the other hand, the production of argan oil has had a positive impact on the local economy, particularly for women. Women-run cooperatives have sprung up throughout the argan-producing region, providing sustainable employment opportunities for women who previously had limited access to work outside their homes. These cooperatives produce and sell argan products such as oil, soap, and cosmetics, contributing significantly to the local economy.