When western women catch wind of a new “miracle oil,” the next super lotion that promises eternal youth and exquisite beauty, be sure that demand for the thing will soar. This is what has happened with argan oil, that illustrious “liquid gold” derived from a nut in Morocco, which is used in both culinary and cosmetic applications.
Rumored to be full of fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamin E, argan oil cosmetics produced in the Maghreb are now available throughout the world, and that is a good thing for the women who make them.
There are now 137 cooperatives in Morocco that employ mostly women to produce argan oil, according to The Daily Star.
The argan tree is able to thrive in the desert environment of Morocco thanks to its deep root system that protects it against soil erosion and desertification. Even so, the once ubiquitous tree is now considered endangered and is protected under UNESCO.
In the past, Berber women collected undigested argan nuts from the waste of goats that used to climb into the trees and eat them. These were ground and pressed to make the precious oil. Modern technology bypasses the goats, and argan oil is made from nuts that are taken directly from the trees.
Hundreds of women who were previously unable to feed or clothe their children properly have benefitted from the oil’s surging popularity.
The Ajddigue cooperative alone employs 60 women, who collectively produce 1,000 liters of argan oil a month, though smaller businesses don’t fare as well, especially since the fiscal crisis in Europe has slashed frivolous spending.
Prices for argan oil have dropped by half, according to the Daily Star, to roughly $68 per liter.
Employees at the cooperative are concerned about the slump, but they expect a revival in time. In the meantime, the quality of life for the women living in the stretch of land between Essaouri and Agadir, on the country’s west coast, has improved dramatically.
“Before, they worked at home roasting and crushing the nuts and giving the oil to their husbands to sell. Now, by working together, they are able to earn money for themselves, to support their children and their families,” one assistant worker, Karima, told the paper.
Argan trees in Israel
While indigenous to North Africa, the argan tree grows elsewhere as well – most notably in Israel, where there are approximately 20,000 trees, according to experts. This is healthy for a species that is at risk of overexploitation and changing climes.
“Yields in Israel amount to an average of 60-80 kilos annually, compared to the 8-10 kilos from wild Moroccan trees,” Prof. Elained Solowey from the Arava Institute told Green Prophet.
While this is not expected to slash high prices and argan oil in Israel can’t compete with Morocco’s exotic reputation, Prof. Solowey hopes that within the next five years the country will be able to produce a high quality product that will diversify the industry.
In the meantime, European and American women are buying what they can, when they can.
“One woman from America came into my store and told me that she suffers from terrible skin problems,” the owner of Bubbles in Ghent, Belgium, told Green Prophet recently. “So I recommended that she try my argan oil cream, and she has had no problems at all. Now we ship to America.”