Argan, the 'tree of life'
Known as the "tree of life" by the Berbers, argan trees are indigenous to the inhospitable and remote Souss Valley area of Morocco where their thorny and gnarled trunks can grow as high as 8–10 meters and live for hundreds of years. The Berber women have known the value of the argan tree for centuries, using the nuts and oil for food and skin care.
The argan tree
The abundant argan trees grow wild in semi-arid soil, their deep root systems helping to protect against soil erosion. The fruit of the argan trees takes more than a year to mature and can be round, oval, or conical in shape. A thick, bitter peel covers the fleshy pulp, and the hard nut in the center contains two or three oil-rich seeds.
How the oil is produced
Once the fruit has been collected, the soft pulp is removed by hand, the most labor-intensive part of the process. The pulp is used as animal feed. The hard nuts are then cracked by hand between two stones and the seeds removed. This traditional process has been handed down to the women of this region, generation after generation. The argan kernels are then cold pressed in a stainless steel press and decanted. After one to two weeks, the oil is filtered to produce a clear and bright top-quality product.
The cooperative was set up in 2007 by women who met at a literacy class, with the goal of lifting themselves out of poverty. Initially, the men resisted the women’s initiative in this male-dominated Berber community – until they saw the extra money coming in. Today, the 60 members of the cooperative produce argan oil using traditional skills. They work in every area of the business, from collecting the fruit, transporting it by donkey, hand-cracking and pressing the nuts, to administration of the business. The cooperative has made a huge difference in the women’s lives, giving them an income where they had none before, and improving family life and literacy. They used to be completely financially dependent on their husbands, but they now not only contribute to the household income, many provide the sole income. This income often means they can send their children to high school and even university. The women are also learning about health care and improving their literacy, and hope to create a nursery school for 3- and 4-year-old children in a large room in their new premises.
Argan oil’s many cosmetic uses
Argan oil has numerous cosmetic properties and can be used for a variety of formulations. Traditionally used as a treatment for skin conditions and as a cosmetic oil for skin and hair, argan oil has become increasingly popular. It is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and essential fatty acids, with well more than 70 percent oleic and linoleic acids. With its nourishing properties argan oil is a valuable skin moisturizer and revitalizer, and in shampoos and conditioners it strengthens hair and makes it shine. It is also effective in nail care products. In fact, more and more cosmetic companies are introducing the versatile oil into their new products because of its many uses and benefits.
Contact EarthOil for more information
EarthOil specializes in smallholding producer projects in remote areas. We can help you access these communities and be part of their growth and development. EarthOil welcomes visitors to its projects and encourages opportunities to meet the people and see firsthand the communities where we operate.