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Marrakech | AttractionMay 28, 2008

The Argan Journey

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"Emancipate our women, making them leave at home"

Professor Zoubida Charrouf

After the enriching experience at the Hammam in Marrakech, I understood the importance given over centuries to the skin restorative and various therapeutic properties of Argan oil in Morocco and very soon, thanks to the local efforts made in the country, hopefully the rest of the world will as well.

This month in New York, Kiehl's -- a respected old-world apothecary in the East Village for over 150 years representing a blend of cosmetic, pharmaceutical, herbal, and medicinal knowledge developed through the generations -- also launched for the first time their Superbly Restorative Argan Skin Preparation.

The fairly-traded ingredient is carefully cultivated in the Women's Targanine Cooperative. In return for planting and harvesting of the trees, the women's communities benefit from an improved socio-economic situation and preservation of their environment and culture. Since I am in the country I decide to contact Professor Zoubida Charrouf of the Faculty of Science Chemistry department in Rabat with the help of Charlotte Adjchavanich, who handles Kiehl's Global communications.

With Professor Charrouf's findings about the substance being packed with vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids that can lower cholesterol, reduce wrinkles and juvenile acne, and speed healing of abrasions, interest in the Argan tree was renewed. The decision by UNESCO in the late 1990's to declare the endangered Argan forest area a biosphere reserve has also contributed to this interest.

When I called this extremely busy woman, today an example and inspiration for hundreds of Moroccan women, she thankfully saved some of her precious time to prepare everything I needed for my visit to the Cooperative, 70 km from Agadir. Professor Zoubida ensured herself that the women, very friendly and welcoming, would prepare especially for my visit both types of the Argan oil extraction, the traditional and the improved.

She then charges one of her assistants, a young and very smart Amazigh woman called Hnia, to take care of me. Here we are, Hnia, myself, Abul Salam (the vintage Mercedes driver) and my friend Adriana.  Poor Adriana, who almost died of heat, tiredness and probably boredom too -- until we approached a vendor in a local Souq near the main city on the Middle Atlas Mountains who sold her three embroidered goat skin baskets with colorful wool to be used for flower containers in her ryad.

Hnia picks us up near Agadir after we drove the first three hours. While looking at the beautiful landscape on the road, Hnia enthusiastically tells me stories of the women and details about the cooperative. In the beginning, Argan oil was produced in their homes while taking care of children, cattle and their households but unfortunately they couldn't deliver a high-end product; their homemade oil was often packaged in leftover plastic bottles and sold on the side of the road or in local souqs, or marketplaces.

Meanwhile, farmers collected all the Argan seeds available, and then throttled the trees to get more fruit. The trees drooped; the local economy remained relatively stagnant. Professor Charrouf decided to found cooperatives to tackle the problems head on and start employing the disenfranchised Amazigh women who had discovered Argan oil's benefits to begin with.

We finally arrive, a lot of dust around us but the air of the mountain is wonderful! I am exited to meet other women at work in such a different environment. The cooperatives now employ approximately 800 women full and part-time, many of them poor, widowed or divorced, and all of them Amazigh.

I am introduced to the principal of them. She welcomes me warmly and takes us to the work place. A group of 20 or so are working at cracking the stones; for that, Hnia tells me, they are paid an average of $100 a month and receive a share in the cooperative's profits. In contrast, a woman making Argan oil on her own earns no more than $20 or $30 monthly. Also, Amazigh women don't traditionally sell goods themselves, so without the co-op they're dependent on male relatives to sell the oil and bring back all the money earned.

To ensure the quality of the product, Charrouf replaced much of the traditional extraction methods with a mechanized process that extended the oil's shelf life from six months to two years. Women still crack the stones, because no machine can match their dexterity. I tried myself a few times but was very unfortunate and got slightly hurt. They all laughed.

On the conservation front, each of Charrouf's workers plants 10 new Argan trees a year. Most significantly, as the region's economic growth is increasingly tied to the Argan, villagers have become much more reluctant to let their goats graze in the trees.

Business is booming. In addition, the Amal cooperative in Tamanar received the International Slow Food Award for biodiversity in 2001. Drawn by increasing press coverage, 100 tourists descend upon the Amal cooperative each day, buying edible oil and cosmetics products. In response to increased demand, Charrouf recently grouped the cooperatives under one umbrella organization in order to standardize their operation and accounting systems and to expand their bargaining power. This organization is called GEI TARGANINE and it was created in October 2003.

I am ready to drive back. I learned about all the process, Adriana stuck the inviting toasted nuts in her mouth without listening to the women's warnings. She frowned, they all laughed, once more a sense of solidarity and mutual admiration took place. I proudly kiss Hnia, buy a few bottles of Argan oil, send my blessing to Zoubida the tenacious professor, and will soon embrace the sensuality of a bath ritual... most important with the women of this community empowered, my conscience is just in heaven!

Today listen to: Astahel

Joelle's Tips:

The product: Kiehl's Superbly Restorative Argan Skin Preparation.

Professor Zoubida Charrouf Département de Chimie Faculté des Sciences, Université Mohammed V Avenue Ibn Batouta, Rabat Tel : 212 61 37 21 42 Email :; Site web :

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