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Beginners Guide to the Argan Tree and Argan Forest

The Moroccan Argan Forest - Akhal Beauty

Argan Oil is one of the most popular Moroccan products. We dig into the story and origins of this ancient oil.

The Argan Tree
Scientific Name: Argania Spinosa | Other names: Moroccan Ironwood, Tree of life
Argan is a thorny evergreen tree that grows up to 10m high. Its life span is said to be anywhere from 125 to 450 years and the tree may not come into full production until it is 40-60 years old. Its flowers are small, with five pale yellow-green petals; flowering in April subject to rainfall.
The Argan tree requires no cultivation and reproduces mainly through cross-pollination. This occurs when pollen is delivered from one Argan flower to another on a new tree through wind and bees. [1]
The Argania Spinosa is an 80-million-year-old relic tree species that has been known since the time of the Phoenicians in 600 BC. It is generally accepted that all Argan trees disappeared from Northern Africa during the Quaternary glaciations, except in the Souss valley where we harvest our Argan fruits!

The Argan tree - Akhal Beauty

The Argan Fruit
The Argan fruit is 2–4 cm long and 1.5–3 cm broad, with a thick, bitter peel surrounding a sweet-smelling but unpleasantly flavoured layer of pulpy pericarp.
This pericarp is discarded and is the protective layer surrounding a very hard nut, which contains one to three small, oil-rich kernels. The fruit takes over a year to mature, ripening in June to July of the following year. [2]
Once the ripe pulp is removed, the indigenous women artisans manually break each nut with a stone to extract those oil-rich kernels. Those kernels are then cold pressed into an oil that is abundant in healing Vitamin E and nourishing Omega 3, 6 and 9s also known as essential fatty acids.

The dried Argan fruits - Akhal Beauty

The Argan Biosphere Reserve

The Argan Forest was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1998. It covers a vast plain of more than 2,560,000 hectares, bordered by the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains and open to the Atlantic in the west. Being a relic of the tertiary era, the Argania Spinosa species is extremely well adapted to drought and other difficult conditions. Growing along the border of the Sahara Desert, the Reserve also functions as a barrier against desertification. Much of the population in the biosphere reserve is of indigenous origin (Amazigh). [4]

The Argan Biosphere Reserve - Akhal Beauty

Why did the Argan forest receive the UNESCO biosphere designation?
From an ecologic and economic standpoint, the Argan tree accomplishes a lot:
-it stabilizes the soil, reduces erosion, maintains moisture in the air, shelters a large variety of small and wild animals, and
-it forms part of the Moroccan indigenous people's diet and the basis of their livelihood
The symbiotic development between the Souss valley, the Argan forest and its indigenous dwellers has resulted in a balanced centuries-old rural micro-society. During the 20th century its area has been reduced by half due to urbanisation, excessive goat grazing and overuse as the wood from the tree was also used to heat fires in the absence of electricity. [6]

What is the impact from receiving the UNESCO biosphere designation?
Firstly, there is now a legally protected core area of the Forest where the Argan trees are not disturbed. The main function of this core area is to preserve its biodiversity for future generations. Surrounding or adjoining the core area is a "buffer zone" which is a clearly identified area where women’s cooperatives and indigenous people in general can use the tree. Beyond the buffer zones are transition or cooperation zones. These areas may include village settlements and local dwellings. This is where our independent women artisans collect the ripe fruits at the bottom of the tree that will go on making our precious, sustainable, and ethical Argan Oil.

If you want to support sustainable and ethical development of the Argan Biosphere Reserve, please buy an Argan Oil made by independent indigenous women artisans. Our sustainable and ethical oil is available here

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©Akhal Beauty. Do not reuse photos without permission.

You can find more information here:
[1] Phenology, Breeding System, and Fruit Development of Cultivated Argan [Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels] http://www.jstor.org/stable/4256054
[2] Ronald Bellefontaine . De la domestication à l’amélioration variétale de l’arganier (Argania spinosa L. Skeels). Science et changements planétaires / Sécheresse. 2010; 21(1):42-53. doi:10.1684/sec.2010.0226
[3] Benzyane, M.; Blerot P.; Giot, P. Le Grand Livre de la Forêt Marocaine; Mhirit, O., Blerot P., Eds.; Mardaga: Sprimont, Belgium, 1999; p. 280
[4] http://www.unesco.org/mabdb/br/brdir/directory/biores.asp?code=MOR+01&mode=all
[5] http://www.georgewright.org/mab
[6] Charrouf, Z.; Guillaume, D. Argan Oil, Functionnal Food, and the Sustainable development of the Argan Forest. Nat. Prod. Commun. 2008, 3, 283-288


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