Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Reflections on Dar Si Hmad's Argan-Oil Seminar

"I am paving the way for future generations."
-Naima Said, Argan-Oil Cooperative Member

Naima is a worker, she seems to be 65 years old, but she must be a lot younger. Her face bears the imprint of the sun and the tough conditions of the rural areas. But, like many rural women, Naima is a warrior of sorts; she fights the harsh conditions and continues an ancestral tradition of Argan-oil making. It was coming together, creating a collective body under the aegis of a cooperative that has helped pave the way for these women to make a significant change in the world of Argan. Thanks to all these women’s labor, they have given an international breadth to the Argan industry. As a member of this community, Naima’s role in the cooperative is to distribute the raw Argan nuts to the women and then to collect the fruit after they have finished cracking it open.  This may seem small, but its importance lies in creating a sense of equity between all the workers, all getting the same share.

I had visited the cooperative, meeting with all these women was a powerful moment. I was given the opportunity to witness a small part of their daily life. In the room, the women line up against the wall, sitting facing each other, and crack the nuts.  Often times, one starts humming, the other picks up and then we have a chorus of beautiful singing, the cracking of the Argan giving the tempo.

Dar Si Hmad hosted a seminar on Argan Oil Cooperatives in celebration of the International Day of Rural Women (October 15). We invited students, Naima, and two professors to join the discussion. We asked Naima to speak about her experience, the challenges she faces and her aspirations. By inviting her, we wanted Naima to access a space that has always been reserved for officials and decision-makers who, often times, speak on behalf of the women.

The women are one part of the “chain” that produces the oil; there is the labor-intensive gleaning of the fruit, the packing, the delivery to the cooperatives, where the women then do the hand-cracking of the nuts. Each component of this chain is essential and while the gleaning or packing may be outsourced or is community-based, the cracking is exclusively a women’s job. However, and perhaps because of the gender-stratification, cracking the nuts open, cause these women to have little room to grow in the Argan industry. Naima is one of these women, this collective body, who are today active contributors to the regional economy.

Thus, Naima was very anxious during the seminar, she felt intimidated and thought that not being fluent in Arabic and being low-literate low made her less important. However, and as the discussion progressed, Naima, contributed to the panel with her unique perspective, enriched the discussion and added the real, human dimension to the exchange. Naima believes she and the women are “paving the way for future generations of women to prosper in the field of Argan.”

-Fatima Matousse Project Coordinator & Language Instructor Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture

Moroccan Argan Oil; a National Treasure

Morocco is known as the only country to have land covered with Argan trees. Argan oil, which is produced via many stages of transforming Argan seeds to a liquid form, is believed to have many medical and cosmetic beneficial properties. Argan Oil is becoming an important product within the international markets.

Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture, a Moroccan NGO in Agadir, conducted a seminar focusing on the Argan tree as a natural resource and economic sector. The seminar hosted community members such as one involved in Argan oil production and marketing, a member of the Social Development Agency and a member of a cooperative working in the Southwest region.

The first person to speak, an activist in many Argan associations, shed light on the national and international attention given to the Argan tree.  He discussed the price and marketing of Argan oil in national and international markets. Argan oil is exported in the pure (unaltered) liquid form to many international companies. The latter mix it with other items to create other cosmetic products, earning 20 more times the price they bought it from the Moroccan cooperatives, a considerable loss for the Moroccan market. The pharmaceutical transformation of Argan oil is not yet possible for local cooperatives or associations given this requires investment, training and research.

Argan oil producers are predominantly females in rural areas. These women have the know-how of traditional Argan production and use these skills to earn an income in order to meet their needs and that of their families. However, inability of accessing the progress in the field of Argan production limits them and the local industry alike.

Another challenge facing the Moroccan Argan market is the lack of unity within the companies and cooperatives in Morocco. As long as each cooperative is working on its own, the Moroccan competitiveness remains weak in the international markets. The recommendation that the professors presented is how local producers should form one unified alliance if they are to challenge the international companies. There are some efforts to bring all the cooperatives in Morocco together, however the process is long and requires collaboration and dedication.

The Social Development Agency promotes the development of remote areas by engaging the people in the economic sector. The Agency representative stated  that they conduct trainings for female Argan cooperative members and companies, aiming to improve their knowledge on production and distribution practices, management and literacy. The Agency has helped in creating many Argan oil partnerships in Morocco, especially in the areas surrounding Essaouira and Agadir, where Argan trees spread the most.

In brief, Argan oil is a treasure that the people of Southwest Morocco hold close to their hearts. Its profits have contributed to the growth of the local economy and has offered income-opportunities for thousands of rural women. I am happy to have had the opportunity to attend this seminar; I learned a great deal about this special tree and its impact on our communities. I am hopeful for the future of Argan production and the opportunities that it can bring to the people of Morocco.

-Ali Tataousst
Student at Ibn Zohr University, English Department
Argan-Oil Seminar Participant & Community Member

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