- Title: MOROCCO: Growing demand for Argan oil transforms Moroccan lives
- Date: 30th June 2014
- Summary: BASKET FULL OF ARGAN FRUITS DRY ARGAN NUTS WOMAN BREAKING ARGAN NUTS WOMAN BREAKING ARGAN NUTS PASTE OF ARGAN BEING EXTRACTED WOMAN GRINDING ARGAN FRUITS AS HER COLLEAGUES SING ARGAN FRUITS IN TRADITIONAL GRINDING MACHINE
- Embargoed: 15th July 2014 13:00
- Location: Morocco
- Country: Morocco
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAEY2P22DRWD1KVKNGBLX5FEP5O
- Story Text: Argan oil, one of the rarest oils in the world, is in high demand in the global cosmetics industry and has transformed the lives of local Berber women who sell it through nearly 200 Moroccan cooperatives. But some say the country must focus on selling Argan oil products rather than the raw material.
It has been variously dubbed "liquid gold" or "green gold", and with good reason. Argan oil -- derived from Argan tree that grows in south-western Morocco -- has been used for centuries as a medicine and is a staple ingredient in local cooking, but now it is in great demand globally for its cosmetic properties.
The argan tree is well-suited to arid soil and plays an important ecological role is checking desertification and soil erosion. But intensive grazing, fires and neglect were posing a threat to argan forests, leading UNESCO to designate argan plantations a protected biosphere.
The agriculture ministry stepped in four years ago and set up a body to save and regenerate argan forests.
The National Agency for the Development of Oases and Argan (ANDOZA) aims to set up modern farms with latest irrigation systems, and increase the production of argan oil.
"The objective of this vision is to regenerate the argan forest. In figures, we have to regenerate 200,000 hectares of argan forest and also create a new chain of modern Argan farms of 5,000 hectares each. As far as the product is concerned, we have to go from 4,000 tons today to 10,000 tons," ANDOZA Director-General Brahim Hafidi told Reuters.
Rising demand for argan oil has turned the regions around Agadir and Essaouira into a hive of small-scale worker cooperatives dedicated to squeezing oil from the hard-shelled argan nut. Local Berber women who were not used to working outside the home are now organised in fairtrade co-ops where they hand-crack argan nuts, a technique they used for centuries by crushing the shell by a stone.
The raw kernel is extracted from the hard shell, hand-ground in a traditional stone grinder, and cold-pressed into oil. It takes one woman three days to make just one litre of organic argan oil.
The activity has transformed the lives of local Berber women who are trading through more than 180 co-operatives. Not only do they have a regular income, but their social lives have improved -- with more opportunities to work and travel. They take part in fairs and exhibitions both inside Morocco and abroad, but still face challenges in marketing their product.
There is fierce competition among the co-operatives, with some dropping their prices to attract more customers.
"We started in 2005 with few means but things have improved now," said Kalthouma Boumayek, chairwoman of Tiwizi co-operative which has 33 members. But she said her members had not had a chance to take part in exhibitions because of competition.
Modern extraction methods are being introduced, so that oil can be extracted directly from newly-harvested fruits. Afterwards, the oil is processed by machine. The modern methods make the process faster and cost-effective.
Lahoussine Bennana owns an industrial unit on the outskirts of Agadir. Ninety-nine percent of the oil he produces is exported to the United States, South Korea, Malaysia and Poland. Last year, he exported oil worth 10 million Moroccan Dirhams ($1.21 million), and expects similar revenues this year.
Bennana sells a litre of oil for about US $27, but says the country could earn a lot more by focusing on products rather than the raw material.
"We should not export argan oil as raw material because it has a very low added value. It is far better to transform this oil and make products that could be sold directly to consumers," he said.
There are some who are already doing that -- using the oil in cosmetic products aimed at the well-heeled consumer.
Driss Boutti owns a high-tech laboratory in the industrial zone in Agadir. He uses the latest bio-technology to make soaps, creams and make-up products using argan oil as the main ingredient.
"We brought in biotechnology and also the know-how. We took the local products and put them in luxurious packaging. We have some products that have world quality which means that we are able to compete with the best labels in the world," Boutti said.
In Morocco's Souss valley, Argan oil generates between 25 to 45 percent of the families' revenues.
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