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Responsible Tourism in Morocco: Women’s Cooperative Promotes Development

Argan tree with fruits and a brave goat
Argan tree with fruits and a clever goat feeding on leaves

One of the best ways to experience Morocco is to visit its rural towns and villages. You not only reap the benefits of experiencing hidden treasures, but rural tourism also helps to increase employment and incomes for local inhabitants.

Driving through the Anti Atlas mountains, which are forested with argan trees, we arrive in the Moroccan village of Mesti, situated between Sidi Ifni and Guelmim in the Tiznit Province in southwest Morocco—about a half hour from the Atlantic coast. Our destination is Tafyoucht Coopérative Féminine d’Argane, a women’s argan cooperative. Tafyoucht, which means “argan” in the Berber dialect, produces by-products of the argan tree such as argan oil and natural cosmetic products.

Tafyoucht was created in 1998 with the assistance of l’Association Ait Baamrane in Sidi Ifni in partnership with the NGO Oxfam-Québec, which assists women in establishing cooperatives by providing technical expertise on management, production, and sales. The cooperative, run entirely by local women, provides a space for women to earn a livelihood while combining their resources and developing leadership and literacy skills. Tafyoucht also has a conservation and reforestation program to protect the argan forest.

The Argan Tree

The argan tree is a thorny evergreen native to southwestern Morocco. Perfectly adapted to the southwestern arid regions of Morocco, argan is hardy and resistant, surviving in poor soil under drought conditions, requiring no cultivation.

The forest supports more than three million Berbers, the original inhabitants of Morocco, by providing them with wood and nutshells for heating fuel, feed for livestock, as well as oil for cooking, cosmetic, and medicinal purposes.

The roots of the argan tree grow deep in search of water, which help prevent soil erosion and limit desertification. Thus, the argan tree plays a vital role in maintaining an ecological balance and the economic stability of the rural population. In 1999, UNESCO added the argan tree to the World Heritage List. Although the argan is Morocco’s second most common tree species, in less than a century over a third of the argan forest has disappeared and is now in danger of extinction.

The Argan Production Process

Berber women harvest and make the oil mostly by traditional methods, a labor intensive process even with an electric press and filtering machine. One liter of extracted oil requires 32 kg of fruit and 12 hours of work. Tafyoucht produces about 500 liters of oil per month.

Women gather the fruit and dry it in the sun. A machine separates the nut from the flesh. Each nut then must be cracked open to remove the kernels, done by hand between two stones. The kernels then are manually sorted from the nutshells. The kernels destined for culinary argan oil are roasted by mild heating to bring out their flavor. Next they are put through a mechanical press for grinding and extraction, and then filtered. It’s a cold first pressed oil yielding a high nutritive quality.

Argan Products

For centuries, Berber women of the Atlas region have produced argan oil, used for its cosmetic and nutritional properties and in traditional Moroccan medicine. The oil has high nutritional value, similar to that of olive oil. It is claimed to have various medicinal properties such as lowering cholesterol levels, stimulating circulation, treating arthritis, and strengthening the body’s immune system.

Argan culinary oil, with a unique, exotic aroma and a delicious, earthy, nutty flavor, is a favorite ingredient of many gourmets. Argan cosmetic oil nourishes and hydrates the skin and is used as a massage oil and anti-scarring agent. It is also used in treatments for rheumatism, brittle fingernails, chicken pox, and sunburns. After cosmetic oil extraction the kernel residue is used to make hydrating soap, as well as an intensive hair mask conditioning treatment.

No part of the argan fruit is wasted. Once the nuts are extracted, the shells are used as fuel for heating and cooking and the remnants of the fruit flesh are sold as cattle feed.

The purchase of these products contributes to literacy programs and to the protection of a forest, which the local inhabitants depend upon. Most of all, it contributes to the livelihoods of countless women and their families.

For More Info

To visit Tafyoucht, from Sidi Ifni head east toward Guelmim until you arrive in Mesti. Renting a car is your best transportation option, or you can rent seats in a “grand taxi,” which carries up to six passengers (though service is sparse). Keep in mind that the cooperative is closed Sundays.

Lodging: On your way, be sure to visit Auberge Café Restaurant Legzira, “Chez Abdoul,” which itself is worth the trip. It sits on an 8-km-long unspoiled sandy beach, about 2.5 hours south of Agadir and 10 km north of Sidi Ifni. The beautiful secluded Legzira Bay is home to fantastic natural stone arches reaching the sea. On the terrace indulge in fresh grilled fish, unforgettable fish tagines, homemade fries, and delicious salads. There is no electricity, but candlelight is a romantic way to contemplate the stars and your Moroccan experience. You will find very comfortable beds, clean facilities, and reasonable prices. Legzira beach attracts paragliders from all over the world. Paragliding can be arranged through the Auberge Café.

Related Topics
Responsible Travel and Ecotourism
Responsible Travel in Africa

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