Lack of interest from young people in Morocco threatens artisanal argan oil

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Esauria (Morocco) (AFP) – In a cooperative in the southwest of Morocco, a group of women pulp the fruits to produce argan oil, highly appreciated throughout the world, an ancestral knowledge that, despised by the younger generations, could disappear.

In the “Marjana” cooperative about 15 km from the port city of Essaouira, the artisans work under the gaze of tourists.

With slow movements, these mostly sixty-year-old women crush the hard kernels with pebbles or a hammer, to extract the almonds before sorting, toasting, grinding and then pressing them.

“It’s hard work that requires experience and a lot of patience,” Samira Chari, 42, the youngest member of this cooperative, which produces about 1,000 liters of oil a year, told AFP.

“This trade is currently despised by the new generation,” deplored Amel El Hantatti, founder of the cooperative created in 2005 and which employs 80 women in the manufacture and marketing of oil.

Amel El Hantatti tells AFO that she is “afraid that this craft will disappear one day.”

This activity, together with tourism, is the main source of income for the 78,000 inhabitants of Essaouira, famous for its extensions of argan, a rare plant capable of withstanding the region’s semi-arid climate.

Numerous cooperatives installed along twenty kilometers that produce the precious oil, were cataloged in 2010 as “protected geographical indication” (IGP).

“Special and unique”

Knowledge was registered in 2014 as intangible heritage of humanity.

A woman squeezes the paste from the argan nut to extract oil near Essaouira, Morocco, on October 15, 2022. © FADEL SENNA / AFP

Still, it doesn’t appeal to young people.

Newcomers to Marjana generally prefer to sell argan oil, used in Moroccan cooking and for cosmetic purposes.

“I tried to work for a few days with the artisans but I couldn’t continue. It’s a difficult and exhausting process,” says Assia Chaker, 25, a vendor for three years.

After years of unemployment, this graduate in Islamic sciences turned “half-heartedly” to this sector.

She prefers “to be in contact with people and practice other languages ​​because our store receives tourists every day, rather than spending all day crushing argan nuts.”

“Anyway, one day only machines will do this job,” he says.

But her boss, Amal El Hantatti, disagrees: “machine-made oil will never have the particular taste of that produced by artisans. It contains their positive waves, their laughter, their shared stories during work, a spirituality that makes it special and unique. “.

“Other Ambitions”

“In my life I only know argan oil. For me it is as essential as oxygen or water,” says Samira, while roasting almonds in a large stove on the ground.

This artisan, who works 10 hours a day, has never been to school. She has been divorced for 10 years, she supports her children alone with her work.

She has mastered the art of making argan oil since her youth, a knowledge handed down from generation to generation.

But their children will not take over. “They have other ambitions,” says Samira, who understands her desire to finish her studies.

But this “liquid gold”, whose moisturizing and anti-aging benefits have been proven in numerous studies, is in increasing demand.

According to official figures, the kingdom produced more than 5,600 tons of argan oil in 2020, of which more than half was exported.

The turnover of the sector tripled between 2012 and 2019 to reach 108 million euros, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Given the risks linked to climate change, the authorities have supported the sector in the last 10 years with the construction of 13 reservoirs to collect rainwater.

A tourist buys a bottle of argan oil at a shop near Essaouira, Morocco, on October 15, 2022.
A tourist buys a bottle of argan oil at a shop near Essaouira, Morocco, on October 15, 2022. © FADEL SENNA / AFP

The Agadir-Essaouira area, which covers more than 830,000 hectares where 686 cooperatives operate, was declared a “biosphere reserve” by Unesco in 1989.

To transform this traditional culture into a “modern, profitable and high value-added” sector, Morocco included argan in its agricultural strategy for 2030.

He plans to double production to promote “the emergence of a new generation of peasant middle class.”

Lack of interest from young people in Morocco threatens artisanal argan oil