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Essaouira: Home of the Argan Tree, Hardworking Berber Women, and Amusing Goats

November 14th 2016

For some, the idea of the argan tree and the nation of Morocco are virtually synonymous. However, this tree that produces an oil highly prized on a global scale for health and beauty benefits is native only to one stretch of coast in this North African nation. Essaouria, situated on the Northwest coast of the African continent provides the perfect backdrop for argan oil production and some unique tourism opportunities.

The Goats in Trees of Morocco

This phenomenon takes place in one specific region of Morocco. Again, it is in the region covered with argan trees because the argan trees are the only type the goats will climb. Why? They like the berries. Humans aren’t the only ones who see the benefits of this marvelous tree and its exceptionally nutritious fruit. As a result of this interesting display of behavior, the tree climbing goats of Morocco have become a bit of a tourist attraction. In fact, some will take more expensive travel options between Marrakesh and Essaouira just to ensure they will be able to pull over and observe the unique behavior, since most buses won’t stop for tourists to take pictures (Kalserud, n.d.). But goats aren’t the only thing to stop and see.

Argan Oil Production and the Women’s Cooperatives

Argan oil is still produced painstakingly by hand. The nuts need to be dried, then cracked between two stones, so the inner seeds can be removed. These seeds are hand-milled into a paste. That paste is then pressed to produce the oil. Once the oil is filtered, it is ready for bottling. The whole process takes about 8 hours (Harvey, 2014). Argan oil is the perfect storm for a high-priced commodity. The process for producing the liquid is slow and arduous, again, taking up to 8 hours. The argan tree itself only grows in certain locations leading to scarcity of the oil in its purest form. In fact, 40 kilograms of the raw fruit only produce 1 kilogram of oil. Finally, demand has driven up prices with exports having doubled in just a five-year span. When such a high-cost item is involved, the risk of exploitation increases. Therefore, a number of cooperatives have sprung up to ensure that the Berber women receive fair treatment and wages as a result of their hard labor. In fact, for some of these women, income has increased tenfold as a result of the cooperatives (to about 6 Euros per day). The argan oil industry thus supports about 3 million Moroccans (C. N. P. 2016).

Essaouira Carries Out Massive Regeneration Project to Preserve argan Trees

The other issue with the increasing demand of argan oil is that the potential exists for hurting the population of the argan tree due to over production. It is estimated that as much as 600 hectares of argan trees disappear each year. As a result, Essaouira carried out an operation to plant 4,300 argan trees in 2009 (Agriculture, 2009). The goal is to reforest 20,000 hectares with the help of several government agencies. This will not only help to preserve the argan tree for the people of Morocco but also for the whole world as this amazing oil continues to become more renowned.

The Moroccan Tree of Life—Used in Diet and Cosmetics

Argan oil has been referred to as liquid gold, and not just because it is a highly sought after commodity. The tree itself is often referred to as the tree of life due to the health benefits of the oil and its anti-aging properties. In Morocco, it is used in salad dressing and to dip bread in, just as olive oil is used throughout most of the rest of the world. However, argan oil may have even more health benefits. Argan oil is rich in vitamin E, Omega-6 (an essential fatty acid), and many antioxidants. As a result, it is touted as everything from an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer food to a blood pressure and cholesterol control solution. Hair and nails are strengthened by its application resulting in the production of shampoos, conditioners, and lotions that utilize argan oil. It has been suggested as a topical treatment for everything from eczema and acne to chicken pox. Plus, it is frequently marketed as a cosmetic product for its anti-wrinkle properties.   Sources: Kalserud, J. Essaouira argan. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from essaouira.nu, promoting Eco Friendly tourism, http://www.essaouira.nu/ecology_argan.htm Harvey, G. (2014, January 20). Argan: Morocco’s tree of life. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from Morocco World News, https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/01/120255/argan-moroccos-tree-of-life-2/ C. N. P. (2016). Morocco’s curious coastal town. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from CN Traveller, http://www.cntraveller.com/recommended/cities/coastal-town-of-essaouira/page/the-argan-farm Agriculture, M. (2009, November 1). Lancement d’une opération de reboisement de 13 hectares d’arganier à Essaouira. Retrieved March 04, 2016, from http://www.marocagriculture.com/lancement-dune-operation-de-reboisement-de-13-hectares-darganier-a-essaouira.html

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