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Across the valleys of South Western Morocco we camped amongst vast plains of dark, twisted, prickly trees extending from arid soil and bearing hard, oval, bright green fruit. These fruits contain a nut, at the centre of which is a small, hard kernel that produces a rich, nutty oil when crushed. Argan oil is one of the world’s rarest oils as a result of the small area in which the trees are found. Extraction of the oil is still carried out arduously by hand, traditionally the nuts were collected after being consumed by goats but the current method now avoids this processing step. The kernels are roasted if the oil is to be used in cooking, first producing a brown paste similar to peanut butter, then a finer oil which bread is dipped into.
Over the last few years the use of Argan oil in the cosmetics industry has soared, hairdressers are swearing by this new ‘Moroccan oil’ and beauticians are raving about its skincare gains. Here in Morocco the benefits run further than skin deep; the production and sale of Argan is largely controlled by government-supported women’s cooperatives, now so successful that other areas of agriculture are looking to adopt the model. We visited one such cooperative in the Ourika Valley, where the women explained that many of the employees were either divorced or widowed, therefore giving them an opportunity to be self-sufficient and independent. Many women are able to afford to educate themselves and their children with the income resulting in a positive impact on the socio-economics of many rural communities. From an environmental perspective, the trees are now so valuable they are protected countrywide; consequently protecting the surrounding desert habitat and wildlife.Emma