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Protection of argan trees

Argan trees and women in cooperatives

Millennium-old argan trees in the southwestern part of Morocco produce argan oil.

 

The Targanine Project is the coalition of several women’s cooperatives producing high-quality oil for food and cosmetic uses. They combine old know-how and modern extraction techniques for this purpose, inheriting the tradition of the Berber people.

 

These women derive income from the sales of their products. This income enables them to live with dignity, and also to contribute to the protection of argan tree forests, which are now endangered by desertification.

What is the argan tree?
Argan trees in Morocco

Covering a total area of 800,000 hectares, these trees grow only in the arid and semiarid zones in the southwestern part of Morocco.

Argan trees are amazingly resistant to heat and can survive a temperature up to 50°C. These trees grow to the height of 8-10 meters. Their trunks are short and twisted, their branches have spines, and the leaves are 2-3 centimeter long spatulate or lanceolate in alternate arrangement.

Fruits and kernels of the argan tree

The fruit is walnut-sized and yellow with occasional red stripes. This fruit contains a very hard seed (nut) surrounded by a fleshy pericarp. Each argan nut has 1 to 3 kernels containing albumen and oil. The kernels are packed with up to 55% oil.

The argan tree provides resources for multiple uses. All parts of this tree, including products and byproducts, are useful, producing income and providing nutrition to users.

The wooden parts are used as fuels and building materials. The leaves and the flesh of the fruits are fed to goats and camels. The kernels are used for argan oil production. Finally, oil cakes are used for fattening of livestock.

Argan trees are protected in international sanctuaries in Morocco, and these trees are playing very important socioeconomic and environmental roles in this country. Argan tree forests were designated a biosphere reserve (RBA) by UNESCO in 1999.

Argan tree forests not only provide feeds, edible oil, and firewood, but also support the livelihood of about 3 million people. In this way, argan tree forests are promoting the stable settlement of local people and hence deterring the mass efflux of population to urban areas (20 million person-days of employment per year).

 

Argan trees are playing indispensable roles in keeping the balance of the ecosystem. The robust root systems of these trees retain soil, preserve its fertility, and protect it from water and wind erosion, which is bringing the threat of desertification in many parts of Morocco.

Forests in the face of desertification

Despite the various roles they are playing, argan tree forests are declining both in acreage and density. The forest area has shrunk almost by half, and 600 hectares are now being lost every year. Most of this decrease is a result of the imbalance of the ecosystem chiefly caused by human activities. Overgrazing and excessive logging are common in mountainous areas, and argan trees in plains are being removed as a hindrance to intensive agriculture.

Consequences
  • Soil erosion

  • Desertification

  • Lowering of the water tabl

 

More and more concerned people are calling for protection of argan trees.

A number of symposia and seminars have been organized, including most notably:

  • International Symposium on Argan Trees, March 1991, Agadir

  • Study Days on Argan Trees, September 1995, Essaouira

  • International Symposium: “The Forest Facing Desertification: the Case of Argan Tree Forests,” October 1995, Agadir

  • International Symposium on Plant Resources: “Argan Trees and the Plants of Arid and Semi-arid Zones,” April 1998, Agadir

     

Several initiatives have been started to protect and increase argan tree forests and also to mitigate the consequences of a loss of argan tree forests.

There are several international cooperation projects ongoing in argan tree forests.

  1. Agro-silvo-pastoral pastoral pilot study in a commune of Essaouria region, financed by the African Development Bank

  2. Conservation and development of argan tree forests, Moroccan-German cooperation

  3. Development of space of argan tree forests using a geographic information system financed by Belgium

  4. Research and Development Project: Development of the technological ensemble for the sustainable utilization of argan tree products from argan forest women groups, financed by International Development Research Centre (CRDI), Ottawa, Canada

  5. Argan oil production and marketing cooperatives initiated by Ibn Al Baytar Association (President: Mrs. Charrouf) in partnership with several Moroccan investors, NGOs, and institutions; the Canadian, Japanese, British Embassy, and Dutch Embassies; OXFAM-Québec, British Council, and International Development Research Centre

  6. The Moroccan government has obtained the Biosphere Reserve status for argan tree forests.

  7. Meda II: A project conducted by the European Commission with Social Development Agency (ADS) for the development of employment of rural women in argan tree forests.

 

 

Publications:

L'Arganier : Essai de synthèse des connaissances sur cet arbre.

R. Nouaim, R. Chaussod, A. El Aboudi, C. Schnabel, J.P. Peltier, in: Physiologie des arbres et arbustes en zones arides et semi-arides. Groupe d'étude de l'arbre, ED. Paris (France) pp 377-388, 1991

 

Actes des Journées d'Etude sur l'Arganier, 1995

 

L'Arganier, une espèce fruitière à usages multiples,

O. M'Hirit, M. Benzyane, F. Benchekroun, S.M. El Yousfi, M. Bedaanoun, Edition MARGADA (Sprimont, Belgique, 150 pages), 1998

 

Ethnoeconomical, ethnomedical and phytochemical study of Argania spinosa, (L.) Skeels, A review. Z. Charrouf, D. Guillaume, J. of Ethnopharmacology, December 1998

Possible strategies:

We will utilize argan tree products and ensure that the forest users may obtain the benefit of expected value added. This will further motivate these users towards protection and replantation.

 

The initiative for the creation of argan oil production cooperatives is integral to these objectives.

 

The economic utilization of the argan tree through its products provides a means for sustainable revitalization of integrated rural forestry management. In fact, if trees can be used as foods, marketable products, and animal feeds, the inhabitant will more naturally become to invest in these rewarding trees.