For centuries, the drought-tolerant argan tree, endemic to Morocco, has acted as a ‘green curtain’ against desertification by the encroaching Sahara. Argan oil is the tree’s most valuable product. Known for its light, nutty flavour, the oil is used for salad dressing and cooking, and is also reputed to have medicinal and cosmetic properties.
But over the twentieth century Morocco lost around half its argan trees to deforestation, overgrazing and agricultural land clearances. Part of the problem was that the production of argan oil was not providing enough incentive for local people to protect the trees: the extraction process was difficult, time-consuming and required strenuous manual work, and there was little available scientific evidence of the oil’s nutritional value — meaning it did not sell well. Read more