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In the landscape of today’s health and beauty market, we as consumers are obsessed with the latest superfoods and anti-aging elixirs. Every few months, a new product comes to the market from an exotic culture that has the promise of longevity and immortal beauty. Most of these wonderful products have centuries of use in their local cultures as medicines of the earth.
As a doctor of natural medicine who has studied with healers in many traditional cultures, I have been able to see the (both positive and negative) impact that this “superfood” culture” has had on indigenous peoples. It is my desire to see the health and beauty industry strive to educate consumers on the local cultures from which these "Medicines of the Earth" come, so as to promote the practice of fair trade. In this way, the gifts we receive for our health and beauty can be a gift that is given twice by giving the opportunity for growth and abundance to the local cultures that they are extracted from.
Ahmed Jeriouda, the CEO of Moroccan Elixir, shares the impact that the argan oil cosmetic revolution has had on the local women and villages of Morocco in the following story.
—Dr. Gabrielle Francis
Argan oil has been revered as a “beauty and health elixir” for centuries by the Moroccan people. Although argan oil is primarily endemic of the southwestern part of Morocco, its legendary use has permeated the culture of Morocco, and that is why it is often known as "Moroccan Oil.”
My first memories of argan oil were as a young boy in Morocco with a family of women that were always using argan oil as a beauty remedy for hair, acne, anti-aging for wrinkles, and even as a remedy for cellulite. When the whole family came down with the chickenpox, my mother used the argan oil to help heal the skin sores, and it worked like magic. We also used argan oil as a dressing for couscous and tagines as well as a dip for our wonderful bread. Having argan oil in the house was always considered a special treat.
Argan oil made its debut in the international market about 20 years ago. First, it became a favorite of the French, British, and German markets as the travelers from Europe were introduced to argan oil on their trips to the southwest regions of Morocco. In the last 10 years, argan oil has become popular in the American cosmetic industry.
The traditional production method of argan oil is still a cottage industry of local women’s cooperatives. The new demands and the commercial success of the business have helped to preserve this tradition and to enhance local cultures and customs. I have watched the evolution of this growth and development firsthand.
In my late teens I would make an annual pilgrimage to Essaouira, an idyllic walled city, on the western coast of Morocco, for the annual Gnawa Music Festival that takes place each year in June. My friends and I were renting an apartment from a wonderful old woman named Khadija. She was a widow with many children, and the status of widows in Morocco at that time was very challenging. She would rent her house as a way to make money to feed and support her family.
One year, we came back for our annual trip and Khadija was working at the Marjana Argan Oil Co-Operative just outside Essaouira. She was working in the traditional production of the argan oil, which is an extremely labor- and time-intensive process. Each year, we came for a visit and saw the fruits of her labor. In a few years, she had bought a house for herself and her children and grandchildren. The cooperative started with about 10 women and grew to over 100. Khadija is the oldest member of the cooperative at the age of 85. Her mother, who is 100 years old, just retired from working.
When you give opportunity and money to women, they give the opportunity and growth to their families and communities. In this community, they built two schools and day care centers. Most of the women were able to build homes. Marjana is a special cooperative in that the women own the entire co-op. Therefore, the more they produce, the more they are rewarded, and this business model has proved successful for the entire village.
The argan oil industry has created a pride among the local villages. It is helping to preserve the local landscape and promote the local culture. UNESCO now preserves argan forests of Morocco. The industry has placed huge demands on the Argan forests. There is currently an initiative to plant and grow more trees that is being implemented by the argan cooperatives.
The traditional production method of argan oil is extremely time-consuming and laborious. It is done in the women’s cooperatives. They take the argan nut and process it in various stages such as cracking, pulping, grinding, and mixing. The entire process involves about 40 hours of manual labor to produce just 1 liter of oil. You can see why they call it “Liquid Gold”! This provides the women with as much work as they would like, and they work either at home or with the community in a social setting.
The financial benefits reaped from selling the oil have allowed the village people to stay put and grow their own local economy instead of heading to the big cities to find work. The women have taken the money to build schools, homes, and community centers for the villages. The villages are thriving, and this has had an impact on the self-esteem and pride of the local people.
There is also the impact that this has had on the young women of Moroccan villages that were originally expected to stay home and attend to family obligations. We are now seeing young women strive for education and work opportunities for themselves and their families. The young women are now seeing themselves as important members of the community and defenders of the tradition and culture. They are having dreams beyond family life.
The current challenge of the argan oil industry in Morocco is in keeping up with the huge international demands. There have been some European manufacturers that are coming to the area to build facilities that produce the oil using machines and chemical extraction methods, in order to produce massive quantities. This could result in a challenge to the local communities to keep the women’s cooperative involved in this process and to preserve the quality of the argan oil that is exported. It is all a work in progress and evolves daily.
I have seen the benefits that the commercial success of argan oil in the European and American markets has had on the local women’s cooperatives in Morocco. The benefits have extended from the individuals to the families to the communities and beyond. I would encourage all lovers of argan oil to look for argan oil products that are sourced from local women’s cooperatives in order to preserve the tradition and customs of the local Moroccan people. In this way, you enjoy the gift of beauty, and Moroccan women and communities may thrive from sharing it with you.