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The Gold of Arganeraie

December 27th, 2014

Piedmont Region for Moroccan women

In supporting the Slow Food Foundation’s project, the Piedmont Regional Authority aims to promote a number of women’s cooperatives producing argan oil in the Moroccan provinces of Agadir, Taroudant, Chtouka, Tiznit and Ait Baha. Argan is an endemic shrub which only exists on the southern coast of Morocco, whose berries provide an oil similar to olive oil but with a delicate almond flavor. It has always been a basic part of the cuisine of the Berbers, a nomadic people already present in North Africa before Arab settlement. Appreciating this product and using it through these recipes not only enables us to better value and understand Moroccan culture. It also helps development efforts for a group of women living in a challenging area of this magnificent country. Supporting argan oil and its many uses – from cuisine to cosmetics and natural medicine – has the added benefit of maintaining an ancient, mainly female tradition which has been handed down from mother to daughter through age – old rituals. We hope that the results achieved through our support to date can boost cooperative relations between Piedmont and Morocco and be the basis for greater mutual social and cultural understanding. In contributing to the defense and promotion of local food traditions, this initiative will also be an important factor in developing the economy of the area.

Mercedes Bresso

President of the Piedmont Regional Authority

Argan oil – all the implications of biodiversity

Argan oil, a Presidium since 2002, is one of the first non-European products Slow Food focused its efforts on. As far back as 2001, a producer cooperative received the Slow Food Award for the Defense of Biodiversity, before the oil became the subject of international attention and the number of argan oil producing companies proliferated. It was a far-sighted and perceptive decision to make the award to the argan producers. Not only did it accurately see the social value of their work and the positive effects that could flow to the whole region, but it also recognized the product’s incredible potential. Argan oil has outstanding biochemical properties, which have been comprehensively studied by Professor Zoubida Charrouf, a partner of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity in this project, and the driving force in setting up the first women’s cooperative. These properties make it valuable in cosmetics and a unique ingredient in cooking, as illustrated by the recipes contained in this book. But it is in particular a strong symbol of identity for the Berber people of Morocco. Ensuring that production is maintained means guaranteeing the survival of traditions, stories and practices that unquestionably benefit the rich heritage and cultural plurality of the country. Furthermore, protecting the argan forest is the only way of maintaining a natural barrier that is adapted to the environment and an economic asset, to oppose the steadily encroaching desert. It is disturbing to see small sand dunes taking over from aquifers which have dried out due to bores being drilled for irrigation in areas deforested to make way for glasshouses containing citrus fruit, bananas and vegetables. The artisan production of oil also allows groups of women from remote villages to organize themselves into groups, access world markets and see their work fairly rewarded. Ensuring fair remuneration is a key aspect of this project, promoted by Slow Food and its partners and funded by the Piedmont Regional Authority. The Presidium aims to produce high-quality oil which meets proper food hygiene standards, will not deteriorate and is the result of a production chain controlled at all stages—from harvesting to pressing and pay for the women—in opposition to various attempts at adulteration and imitation. Argan is now in the international spotlight, demand is increasing and the immediate risk of extinction has probably been averted, but efforts have only just begun. The project needs to be supervised and the work of these women encouraged and supported so they are not exploited by unscrupulous operators or pressured to sacrifice quality for quantity. It is a particularly delicate production process, combining a unique tree, the argan, with uniquely valuable environmental features. It would be unforgivable to think of it just as a resource to exploit and not as part of a system which must be preserved.
Piero Sardo

President of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity


The Ibn Al Baytar association

The Ibn Al Baytar association for the promotion of medicinal plants was created through the efforts of Zoubida Charrouf, Lecturer in Chemistry at the Chemical Laboratory for Plants and Organic and Biorganic Synthesis at the Faculty of Science of Mohammed V University in Rabat. We asked Madame Charrouf to tell us about the creation and objectives of the association she founded and is President of, and to describe the characteristics of argan.
The name of the Ibn Al Baytar association derives from one of the most illustrious botanists of the 13th century: he was the first scholar in history to write a monograph on the argan tree and its oil. The organization’s objectives and priorities are: – to promote and conserve Moroccan medicinal plants; – to set up projects for medicinal plants; – to promote the integration and development of rural women; – make people aware of the need to conserve plants at risk of extinction. In addition to research activity, the Rabat University Faculty of Science and the Ibn Al Baytar association set up the network of the first cooperatives producing argan oil. This initiative was proposed so the scientific research could be followed with work to help the sociocultural development of the women producing argan oil. This was achieved by creating cooperatives of women with different origins, social and cultural backgrounds, but sharing the same geographical area and a connection
with the argan forest. Initial work focused on creating awareness, providing information and educating people about the value of the natural heritage argan forest and the need to defend it. It was necessary to teach them how to organize artisan production of argan oil, to commercialize the product, improve its use and consider the effects on members of the cooperative. Carrying out this work involved the association in other activities which brought about improvements in the lives of these women, their families and their villages. The collaborative venture with Slow Food and subsequently, with the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, consolidated the process. The project started in 2001, when I presented the Amal Cooperative project (Tamanar, province of Essaouira) and it won the Slow Food Award for the Defense of Biodiversity. From that moment on, with the creation of the Argan Oil Presidium, there was continual promotional activity, improvements to product quality and social conditions through participation in Slow Food’s main events (Terra Madre, Salone del Gusto, Origines). The opportunity to play an active role in these big events enabled the Presidium to develop, grow and learn. For example, the meeting with Coldiretti, the Italian National Farmers’ Federation, provided valuable advice about ecotourism, and the visits made to the Presidium by Italian experts in extravirgin olive oil, accompanied by staff responsible for the project from the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, were essential in achieving technical and production improvements to the argan oil project.

To sum up, the results achieved by the Ibn Al Baytar association, in collaboration with others involved in the project are: – most of those working on the argan project, including donors of funds, are active participants in the movement; – scientific information has been obtained which enables the propagation and regeneration of the argan tree and the production of quality oil; – a worldwide market with high demand for argan products has been created and the returns for the women producers have improved; – the women producers are coordinated through numerous cooperatives and membership in various groups. Their sociocultural status has significantly improved, enabling them to boost their living conditions and better contribute to the functioning of the cooperatives, the lives of their families and villages, at local and regional level; – a training system has been set up at all levels to provide the necessary skills throughout the production chain; – numerous jobs have been created; – the rate of planting of argan trees has been significantly increased.


The argan tree

The argan (Argania spinosa [L.] Skeels) is an endemic tree in Morocco, the second most important one in the country after the holm oak and ahead of the thuja. It can live up to 200 years. The argan forest extends for about 750 000 hectares, enclosed in a triangle between the towns of Essaouira, Agadir and Taroudant. The tree is in the Sapotaceae family and is particularly resistant to the prevailing climatic conditions of drought and heat in this region. It can withstand temperatures ranging from 3°C to 50°C and needs very little rain: in fact it dates back to the Tertiary Age and this has probably enabled it to adapt to very poor soils and harsh conditions. The argan grows spontaneously and abundantly in the arid and semi-arid areas of south-west Morocco, where it plays a vital role in maintaining ecological equilibrium and protecting biodiversity. Furthermore, its strong root system contributes to soil stability, resisting water and wind erosion, two of the main causes of desertification in the region. It is utilized in many different ways and all parts of the tree can be used as a nutritional and economic resource. About 3 million people depend on the argan forest for subsistence, 2.2 million of them small farmers, and it plays a major socioeconomic and environmental role in these geographical areas. The various products obtained from argan account for 20 million working days, with 7.5 million of them being work by women to extract oil. The applicable legislation (Dahir or Decree of March 4, 1925 and regulations governing agricultural practices involving the argan tree of July 20, 1983) make it a state-owned forest with

extensive usage rights for local people, from the right to gather food and wood for domestic use to the right of free passage and access. A victim of its wealth, the argan forest is now in a vulnerable state due to climate change and the development of new agricultural approaches. Exploitation of the land, erosion, the advancing desert, removal of trees (uprooting, felling) and their replacement by intensively cultivated crops are attacking this unique heritage. In less than a century, more than half the forest has disappeared and its average density has fallen from 100 to 30 trees per hectare. However, the importance of protecting the argan forest has not escaped the attention of local and international authorities. Many initiatives have been organized to protect it, develop it and in particular, prevent its further regression, and in 1998 UNESCO and the Moroccan state nominated it as a Biosphere Reserve.
In order to reverse current trends, the Moroccan government, some countries and many NGOs (including the Ibn Al Baytar association) are involved in a study program to examine ecological and economic issues affecting argan and the argan forest.

Argan oil

Argan oil is the main product of the argan tree. It is a food and dietary oil whose many benefits make it a valued substance in traditional medicine. Oil is extracted following ancestral methods kept by native women and handed down from generation to generation over many centuries. A mechanized method has been developed recently which allows production of oil meeting higher hygienic and sanitary standards, with easier working conditions for the women who extract the oil. “Two drops of argan oil will enhance any dish” proudly states Gad Azran, a Casablanca chef of Jewish – Moroccan origin. The precious rare substance is constantly used in Berber cuisine, often served as a condiment with a range of dishes – salads, couscous, tajines, meat and fish recipes and also desserts. It is used instead of olive oil in many recipes: a traditional snack is argan oil with bread, which is not only served at home but also in restaurants and cafes. This “green gold” can also be savored in amlou, a dessert made from roasted almonds and honey. It is inconceivable to cook fish or meat without first soaking or seasoning it with argan oil. Vegetable dips often contain argan oil, which is supposed to be used uncooked but in some Berber recipes is heated. Two tablespoons of the oil with a tablespoon of water allow you to brown onions and prepare a sautéed mixture for a classic tajine. It should not be used to excess: adding moderate amounts allows the full flavors and aromas of the original recipe to emerge. The chemical constitution of argan oil is mainly oleic acid (45%) and linoleic acid (35%). These fatty acids give the oil nutritional and dietary benefits for treating cardiovascular diseases and problems with dry or aging skin. Apart from its high fatty acid content, the oil also has appreciable amounts of biologically active compounds, particularly antioxidants and phytosterols.

Argan possesses a range of medical benefits: – dermatological: it has nutritional and moisturizing properties and stimulates skin regeneration. The oil is also used to treat hair, scalp, dry skin and wrinkles. It is recommended for treating epidermal irritations, eczema, burns, cellulitis and chapped skin; – cardiovascular: clinical tests have shown that taking argan oil lowers the level of blood cholesterol (LDLs) and triglycerides and increases the level of “good” cholesterol
(HDLs). It also prevents arteriosclerosis; – it has additional uses in traditional medicine: argan oil can be used to treat acne in young people, chickenpox, and to soothe rheumatism and joint pain. Due to its deep-rooted association with south-west Morocco, argan oil could gain recognition as a Protected Designation of Origin product in Morocco and worldwide, securing intellectual property rights based on its geographical origins. This recognition would enable argan and the women producing the oil to be protected against any misuse of the name argan, food adulteration and unfair competition. Protection of argan oil within the PDO system would mean: – the name argan oil or argan would exclusively apply to products from south –west Morocco processed using specific methods; – rational organization of the production chain; – recognition and promotion of rural areas where the oil is produced (added value for goods sold, sharing of economic benefits among producers, exports, cooperative organizations etc.); – new prospects for developing tourist activities in this area (tastings, tours, hospitality and food etc).

The argan oil Presidium was created in 2002. Since then a number of activities have been developed through the efforts of Zoubida Charrouf, local producers and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The cooperatives have been visited by various Italian oil producers and tasters: Franco Boeri (producer of Ligurian extravirgin olive oil), Giuseppe Matticari (owner of the company Organic Oils), Mario Renna (technical expert in oil products), Diego Soracco (editor of the guides to extravirgin oil published by Slow Food Editore). This exchange of knowledge has enabled the Presidium to make significant progress in improving product quality and packaging. A draft set of production rules has been drawn up with various objectives: it aims to guarantee product authenticity and quality, safeguard the women’s work, conserve the arganeraie (forest of argan trees), thereby protecting the land from the advancing desert. Between 2002 and 2008 the wholesale price has risen from 15 to 20 per liter and the retail price from €30 to 40 (it takes 50 kilos of berries and 20 hours of work to produce half a liter of oil). But economic data are not the most significant aspect of the project. What has really changed in recent years is the social role of the cooperatives and the women. Harvesting the berries, breaking the shells and extracting the oil are above all an opportunity for social interaction: the women get together, attend courses, learn to read and write. They make bread and craft products together. Some Presidium coordinators have begun to travel, presenting the product in Paris, Monaco, Montpellier, Bilbao, Turin, and Caltanissetta, meeting distributors, restaurateurs and other producers. The Presidium now communicates with numerous institutions, such as universities, chambers of commerce and ministries. The international press has written articles about their situation and photographers, journalists, TV crew, university students and tourists have come to Morocco to visit the cooperatives and learn more. With the help of two projects funded by the Piedmont Regional Authority between 2005 and 2008, technical experts have been sent to improve the production process and training courses have been organized for the women. As part of the project, the Piedmont section of the Italian Federation of Farmers is helping the Moroccan women to develop agritourism ventures and sustainable tourism: Pierangelo Cena, President of Terranostra Torino (an association for agritourism, the environment and land) visited Morocco to analyze the local possibilities and representatives of the Presidium had work experience and training at Piedmontese agritourism operations. In recent years the argan oil Presidium has been the subject of several degree theses, articles, film documentaries, features, and not least, this cookbook. All these activities have been made possible thanks to significant financial, professional and voluntary support, coordinated by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.


Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

Slow Food has created the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity to organize and fund projects that defend our world’s agricultural biodiversity. The Foundation works to promote sustainable agriculture that respects the environment, the cultural identity of local people, and promotes animal well-being. The Foundation believes in the rights of single communities to determine what they will cultivate, produce, and eat. Founded in 2003 with the support of the Region of Tuscany, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity organizes and funds projects that defend our world’s heritage of agricultural biodiversity and gastronomic traditions: the Ark of Taste, the Presidia and the Mercati della Terra. These projects are being developed on all five continents, in over 50 countries (from Switzerland to Guatemala), but the most significant economic contribution occurs in the world’s less-developed nations. The principal project of the Foundation, from an economic and organizational point of view, is that of the Presidia. There are now over 280 presidia in 37 countries, which were created to protect small producers and to preserve the quality of artisanal products. Thanks to the initiatives of Slow Food’s network of members, leaders, researchers, writers, chefs and producers, the Foundation is able to help improve production techniques, come up with new products or new ways to use products and find local and international markets for then. The Foundation’s second important project is the Ark of Taste, the catalogue of quality food products that are at risk of extinction. Through the research of experts from all over the world who are integral to our 18 national commissions, over 700 products in 50 countries have been chosen for the Ark. The Slow Food Foundation also promotes the exchange of information and knowledge between members of different food communities through participation in Terra Madre. Terra Madre is an event held in Turin every two years and is attended by 5,000 producers from 130 countries. The last challenge for the Slow Food Foundation is to reduce the number of intermediaries between producers and distributors, which will lessen the distance food travels from field to table. The Foundation especially favors the development, diffusion and enforcement of the relationships between the farmers’ markets of the world. www.slowfoodfoundation.com


The Gold of Arganeraie, 33 Moroccan recipes based on argan oil

By Michela Lenta
In collaboration with Simone Beccaria, Serena Milano, Bianca Minerdo
Edited by Grazia Novellini
Illustrations, layout and design Mauro Olocco
Printed by La Stamperia – Carrù (Cn)
For the help in compiling this book, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity would like to thank
Suad Aghla, Aisha Ibnou Al Kadi, Touria Laassouli, Gad Azran, Choumicha Acharki, Meryam Cherkaoui, Khaltuma Zitouni.

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  1. Kevin Batsford
    | #1

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Maria Gomez
    | #2

    This is a very interesting page, There must be so many people using argan oil, not really knowing it’s roots.

  3. gilly
    | #3

    I found it a very good read, thankyou

  4. | #4

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    site is really good.

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