Lanscape with aerial view from the argan forest
Endemic to Morocco, argan trees are cultivated using ancient agroforestry practices like the Matifya - a rainwater reservoir carved into a rock. These dry-stone terraces are extremely resilient to water scarcity and soil erosion.
Photo:Photo courtesy of GIAHS Argan-based agro-sylvo-pastoral system within the area of Ait Souab-Ait and Mansour, Morocco.

The multifaceted argan tree

The argan tree (Argania spinosa) is a native species of the sub-Saharan region of Morocco, in the southwest of the country, which grows in arid and semiarid areas. It’s the defining species of a woodland ecosystem, also known as Arganeraie, which is rich in endemic flora. It is resilient to a harsh environment under water scarcity, risk of erosion and poor soils.

This ecosystem of extraordinary beauty is not only important in terms of conservation, but also for research and socio-economic development, due to its forestry, agricultural and livestock use.

The argan tree woodlands provide forest products, fruits and fodder. The leaves and the fruits are edible and highly appreciated, as is the undergrowth, and constitute a vital fodder reserve for all herds, even in periods of drought. The trees are also used as fuelwood for cooking and heating.

The world-renowned argan oil is extracted from the seeds and has multiple applications, especially in traditional and complementary medicine and in the culinary and cosmetic industries.

Photo with an argan oil dispenser and nuts in a traditional ceramic Moroccan pot.

What is argan oil?

Argan oil is one of the rarest oils in the world and is hailed as the "liquid gold" of Morocco. It has multiple uses in cooking, medicines and cosmetics. Its ability to prevent cardiovascular diseases and its benefits for the skin are scientifically recognized. Rural women lead the entire extraction process through knowledge transmitted from one generation to the next.

The argan tree as a fundamental pillar for sustainable development

The argan tree is typically a multipurpose tree that supports income generation, increases resilience and improves climate adaptation, playing a very important role in achieving the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental - at the local level.

The sustainable argan production sector contributes to the economic empowerment and financial inclusion of local communities, especially women living in rural areas. Cooperatives are instrumental in promoting local job opportunities and can play an important role in contributing to food security and in eradicating poverty.

For centuries, the argan tree has been a mainstay of the Berber and Arab-origin indigenous rural communities, which developed a specific culture and identity, sharing their traditional knowledge and skills through non-formal education, particularly the unique knowledge associated with the traditional production of argan oil by women.

The unique argan-based agro-forestry-pastoral system uses only locally adapted species and pastoralism activities and relies on traditional water management provided by the Matifiya - a rain water reservoir carved into rock, hence contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and to the conservation of biodiversity.

Background

This unique region, where argan trees have been cultivated for centuries combines agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and valuable cultural heritage. For that reason, it has gotten recognition and protection from various UN entities.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated in 1988 the endemic production area as the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve. Also, all know-how concerning the argan tree was inscribed in 2014 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Moreover, in December 2018, FAO recognized the Argan-based agro-sylvo-pastoral system within the area of Ait Souab - Ait Mansour in Morocco as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

And lastly, in 2021, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 10 May the International Day of Argania. The resolution, submitted by Morocco, was co-sponsored by 113 member states of the United Nations and adopted by consensus.

Did you know?

  • The argan tree withstands temperatures of up to 50° Celsius.
  • The argan trees are a true bastion against desertification, which can reach 10 meters in height and can live for 200 years.
  • A symbol of eternity and resistance, the argan tree has a strong symbolic and emotional value for local communities.
  • Argan oil is given as a wedding gift and is used extensively in the preparation of festive dishes.
  • It takes about 150 kg of fruit to produce 3 litres of argan oil.

Read

The Moroccan landscape, traditions and communities behind argan and its oil

Goats on a tree

Links

Related International Days

A woman works the kernel of the argan fruit to obtain the oil.

It is said that, since the 13th century, the Berber women of North Africa have been making argan oil for culinary and cosmetic purposes. In recent years, worldwide demand for argan oil has been increasing. Despite this increase, the method of making argan oil has changed very little. Learn how this liquid gold is empowering women in rural Morocco.

A woman works the kernel of the argan fruit to obtain the oil.

The #ProudToShare​ campaign by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) is making a difference in Biosphere Reserves. Arganeraie is one of the hundreds of UNESCO designated biosphere reserves - places where people and nature share a way of living that we can all be proud of. Watch this video to find out more about Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve.

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.