It is true that the Argan trees (with the scientific name Argania spinosa) are already endangered. The Argan tree bears fruits which contain the nut seeds where the Argan oil is extracted from. The Argan trees are exclusive to the south west region of Morocco and believed to have existed since 80 million years ago. The Argan tree is actually one of the oldest trees on our planet. The Berber tribe of Morocco has known the wonderful benefits of the Argan tree and actually calls it the Tree of Life.
The life span of an Argan tree can reach up to 200 years and it can grow to a heaight of 8 to 10 metres. The roots of the Argan tree grow deep down the ground extending to a good depth. Such root growth is an effective shield against soil erosion. Often, the trunk of the tree is crooked which the goats love as they are able to climb up to the branches and eat the fruits as well as the leaves of the Argan tree.
The women of the Berber tribe are solely responsibe for extracting oil from the nut seeds of the Argan fruits. The extraction process is painstaking which usually means 22 hours of hard labour. The women would open the Argan fruits to get the nuts out and break open the nuts using only their bare hands and a stone. The nuts are then roasted and then ground into a thick paste. The women would then need to squeeze the paste in their hands to get the oil out.
The Berber tribe has been using the oil for many generations. They use the oil in cooking and even in treating different ailments. The Berber women have been using the oil as a skin care product as well.
These days, the demand for the Argan oil which is often referred to as the “liquid gold of Morocco” is very high. Ever since the word about the wonderful benefits that the oil give to the skin, hair and nails reached the West, the cosmetic world clamoured for this oil. The oil is also gaining popularity in the culinary industry. It is however the cosmetic industry that has a high demand for this precious Moroccan commodity.
Because of the high demand for the oil, the Argan trees were exploited. About 2 thousand years ago, it was estimated that there were 3 million acres of land in Morocco were covered with Argan trees but to this date only 2 million acres of land are covered with Argan trees. In 1999, UNESCO or United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Education declared the Moroccan Argan forest as well as its surrounding areas a World Biosphere Reserve. This move of the UNESCO is aimed to stop humans from their excessive exploitation of the trees.
These days, cooperatives in Morocco are mostly responsible for producing the oil. Most of the cooperatives that benefit from producing the oil are very much concerned about preserving the trees and do their part of preserving the tree of life by being involved in replanting Argan trees.