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  • Ali Amhal

Amazigh Women & the Argan Tree

The argan tree, indigenous to southern Morocco, has significant cultural value to local Amazigh communities. Women have been producing oil from this tree by hand for hundreds of years, and this is an important part of their tradition and family economy. These trees adapted to the arid environment also prevent soil erosion and desertification. And yet, this hardy and vital tree is increasingly endangered.

Amazigh women harvesting argan fruits
Amazigh women gather fruits in an argan grove. The kernels are pressed for oil and the husk used to feed livestock. © Philipp Patrick Ammon
 

by Ali Amhal


Amazigh women and argan trees have a lot in common. They are precious, invaluable pillars of Moroccan-Amazigh life, culture, and identity. They both exhibit a number of inspirational qualities. They have been the outcome of the same roots and region. Meanwhile, they struggle with similar challenges and long for success and prosperity.


For Amazigh people, the argan tree is a source of not only an additional meager-but-interesting income, but also an inspiration for perseverance, patience, and love for land, history, and culture. Amazigh women are the backbone of the Moroccan society in general and Amazigh-speaking areas in particular, and more specifically in the region of Agadir. For socio-economic reasons, most men in this area are forced to quit their home villages, leaving their wives, mothers, and grandmothers to take the lead. Women generate income, bring up kids, secure their families’ needs, look after their sheep, and deal with all the challenges that might arise.

Goats love the fruits of the Argan tree too! © Getty

Despite all these difficulties and hardships, argan trees and Amazigh women never stop loving, serving, and unconditionally supporting their communities. The argan tree is there for centuries stretching her branches as if she opens her arms welcoming people to reap her fruit, blossoming her leaves and nuts for goats to feed themselves and their kids. For centuries, “Argan trees’ deep root systems help them weather long periods of drought, stabilizes the soil, decreases erosion, and by extension prevents desertification." (1)


Argan trees can live up to 600 years. Similarly, Amazigh women remain as robust as mountains enduring countless life hardships. Lately, however, women’s socio-economic conditions have improved, whereas argan trees are still suffering; it has even worsened now due to people’s carelessness and long periods of drought and unprecedented shortage of water. In brief, as we happily see women climbing the social ladder day after day, we sadly notice how argan trees are shrinking day after day.

"Morocco's argan forests cover about 800,000 hectares near the Souss Valley, an area framed by the Atlas Mountains, Atlantic Ocean, and Sahara Desert, which hosts roughly 21 million trees and has been given UNESCO protection as a biosphere reserve." (2)

Yet, the species is clearly and rapidly disappearing. My grandmother said once, "Landscape around our village was once all covered by argan trees. You could not easily see the soil from afar, but now the remaining trees are sadly scattered around the place." Hectares of argan trees are disappearing every year.

Women breaking open argan husks
Once the husks have dried, women break open the kernels by tapping between two stones. The husks can be used as animal feed. The seeds are then cold-pressed to make cosmetic oil or lightly toasted and pressed for food oil. © B Mackraz

It is true that UNESCO has recognized the argan tree as an international human treasure. Nevertheless, concrete measures haven’t been taken yet. It has become an absolute urgent necessity to save this special tree. We should act NOW.

  1. Millions of argan trees should be planted. Moroccan government has already started this initiative.

  2. More efforts should target finding innovative inventions and machines, which can make the process of extracting argan oil easier, faster, and more effective.

  3. As argan oil is widely used for cooking and medical purposes, it has become a source of income mainly for Amazigh rural women. Therefore, argan co-operatives should be funded, trained, and helped to sell their products locally as well as globally.

  4. The argan tree and Amazigh woman have to be supported: the former through more protection and care; the second through more literacy and creation of small local businesses.

(1) https://earthjournalism.net/stories/balancing-the-past-and-future-of-argan-trees

(2) https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/01/120255/argan-moroccos-tree-of-life-2/

 

Help plant argan trees in southern Morocco!

 

About the Author

Ali Amhal is an English teacher at Ibn Sina High School in Biougra, in the south of Morocco; a long-time member of the Morocco Library Project (MLP) management team; and international liaison to the Oliveseed board.

In addition to teaching high school students, in 2020 Ali founded the Access Language Center in Biougra, a community center providing literature circles and language classes to people of all ages. He is also president of the local village NGO Ait Oumanouz Association for Development & Cooperation, providing support for rural Amazigh women and preserving and planting argan trees.