Soaring demand from the West for argan oil is transforming the lives of women in rural Morocco, creating dozens of cooperatives across the south west of the country. Hayley Platt reports on the impact their success is having on their lives.
Smashing the shells of argan nuts one-by-one may be time consuming. But for these women it provides much needed work in rural Morocco. The nuts produce oil, used locally for cooking. And now more recently, globally in cosmetics. Dubbed 'liquid gold' for its medicinal and beauty properties, it's used to keep hair and skin looking healthy. The Moroccan government is keen to grow one its most valuable commodities. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF NATIONAL AGENCY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF OASES AND ARGAN (ANDOZA), BRAHIM HAFIDI, SAYING: "We have to regenerate 200,000 hectares of argan forest and also create a new chain of modern argan farms. As far as the product is concerned, we need to go from 4,000 tons today to 10,000 tons." Dozens of cooperatives have sprung up across the Moroccan countryside to meet demand. Transforming the lives of hundreds of local Berber women. For many it's their first time working outside of the home. But it's not easy work. It can take each woman three days to make just one litre of oil. And that's not the only challenge. (SOUNDBITE) (Berber) CHAIRPERSON OF TIWIZI CO-OP, KALTHOUMA BOUMAYEK, SAYING: "The problem we face today is selling our products. We are not invited to take part regularly in fairs and exhibitions even if we have very good certified quality products." Others are making a decent living from wholesaling the oil. Lahoussine Bennana says last year he exported 10 million dollars worth. Much of it went to the U.S., South Korea, Malaysia and Poland. But he says he could make a lot more money by turning the raw product into a finished one. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) MANAGER OF EFAS INDUSTRIAL UNIT, LAHOUSSINE BENNANA, SAYING: "We should not export argan oil as a raw material because it has a low added value. It is far better to transform this oil and make products that could be sold directly to consumers." Thriving in the desert, the argan trees have been growing in the Moroccan mountains for centuries. Its oil sells locally for ten times the price of olive oil, generating anything from a quarter to nearly a half of the incomes of those who live and work in the Souss valley region. A crucial source of revenue for the locals - and in the future, perhaps, even more so.