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.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tackling problems with their own hands, one kernel at a time

Yesterday, Dar Si Hmad’s #16days campaign introduced the fog harvesting project. Bringing reliable sources of potable water to rural villages in the Anti-Atlas Mountains has created a number of opportunities for women’s empowerment, as time once spent collecting water is now available for other activities. With the help of trained facilitators, many of the villages are exploring co-ops as routes to personal and communal economic security. For Day 3 of our exploration of the links between empowerment, violence against women, and human rights, we’re introducing argan and Dar Si Hmad’s partner projects.

Last year, Dar Si Hmad held a seminar on Argan Oil Cooperatives to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October. Students were joined by two professors and an Amazigh member of an argan co-operative who shared their experiences and expertise. After the seminar, student Ali Tatousst from Ibn Zohr University’s English Department wrote the following:

“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...
“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...
“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.”

There are now more than one hundred argan co-operatives in Morocco. The tree is endemic to the southwest region, also home to Dar Si Hmad. Driving around the villages served by the fog project, you’ll see argan trees – and even goats in the argan trees, since they love them as much as we do! Argan co-ops employ thousands of rural women, helping the women to pay electricity bills, keep children in schools, and access healthcare.

Former Dar Si Hmad staff member Renda Nazzal now lives in San Diego, California, where she helps run The Argan Project. The Argan Project works with local women’s co-operatives in southwest Morocco to tackle some of the issues Ali mentions above, including argan oil processing, corporations’ profits, and collaboration.

The Argan Project highlights Morocco's endemic argan tree
and the goats that infamously climb to its highest branches
The organization sells pure culinary argan oil (delicious on salads, as a dip for breads, or as a cooking oil), amlou (a traditional Moroccan almond butter made from argan oil, almonds, and honey), cosmetic argan oil (used to moisturize and replenish face, hair, skin, and nails), and pure red saffron. The amlou is made by The Argan Project in California, helping Moroccan women share their local dishes while keeping shipping costs down and involving local Californian farmers in the supply chain. These relationships prove beneficial for women in agriculture on both sides of the ocean.

Purchasing more directly through women’s co-ops cuts out the corporate ‘middle men’ that profit off women’s work. Consumers get better prices and qualities, and producers receive fairer prices.

Working with multiple co-operatives, The Argan Project is able to ensure a steadier supply to conscientious US consumers and a bigger market to the Moroccan producers.

Women in the Bled (Moroccan countryside) regularly serve homemade bread and argan oil to student visitors from Dar Si Hmad’s Ethnographic Field School. It is a great gift of hospitality, as creating argan oil requires a great deal of time – up to twenty hours for one liter. The hard fruit must be harvested from trees and stone-cracked to reach the nut inside. The nut is then cracked again to reveal the argan seed. It is these seeds that are roasted, pressed, and filtered to make a delightfully nutty oil.

With the time now available to them thanks their work with the fog harvesting project, women in Dar Si Hmad’s five partner villages can increase their production of argan or other goods for sale. Many of them are considering starting their own argan co-operatives. Initiatives like these co-ops play a role in preventing violence against women by putting control over their lives directly into the hands of women themselves. The co-ops value the local environment, celebrating Morocco’s endemic argan tree. They involve women in traditionally appropriate but empowering economic employment. And they improve educational and livelihoods opportunities for entire households. Through Dar Si Hmad’s partnerships with female co-ops, droplets of fog and fallen argan kernels are changing lives.

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

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