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Argan Tree

What’s an Argan tree and why is it important?

argan tree with goatsThe Argan tree (Latin: Argani Spinosa) is an ancient tree species of North Africa and Southern Europe. The size of Argan trees varies, but they can be up to ten meters tall and can have either a single or multiple stemmed trunk. They mature and bear fruit after 50-60 years, and they can live to be up to 250 years old. These trees, though once the most abundant tree in the ancient forests of North Africa, are now only existent in small pockets, the largest of which is in Morocco. Their decline is mainly due to past deforestation — the wood was used to produce charcoal and lumber — and the result has been the desertification of much of Northern Africa. In the past century alone, the forest has diminished by a full third.

The preservation of the Argan trees is essential to the life of the Moroccan desert region, as Argan trees concentrate large amounts of water in their roots and, therefore, play a major role in regulating the water systems of the regional ecosystem. Their fruit also provides sustenance for camels, goats, sheep, and other cattle, especially in times of drought, which are common in the region.

Because Argan trees are long-lived trees that require at least 50 years before reaching maturity, they are not easily replaced. Therefore, protection of the existing trees is of the utmost priority if the region is to continue to remain habitable.

What is the Moroccan government doing to protect the Argan trees?

Because of the relative scarcity of these trees and their importance to the local eco-system, Argan oil production has been subsidized and encouraged by the Moroccan government. Most of the Argan forest is owned by the Moroccan government, but families who have traditionally lived in the region are allowed to practice their traditional harvesting there. In addition, the government has created a program that provides meaningful and fair employment to the Berber women, who are the caretakers of the traditional art of Argan harvesting and Moroccan oil production. These women are provided with the means to form cooperatives and compete on the local and global market. In addition, they are offered education in literacy and other topics, such as environmentally conscious methods of harvesting Morocco’s Argan trees, which, without proper protection, would be in danger of deforestation.

This government-subsidized program provides many Moroccan women with honest, respectable work that contributes to their sense of well-being, self-worth, and empowerment in a society where male-domination has been the rule of thumb for centuries. The women that produce the oil believe in the preservation of the Argan forests, and they hope that their efforts will succeed in regenerating the depleted forest.

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