The versatile Argan tree

The argan tree, known in Morocco as ‘the iron tree’ or as ‘the tree blessed by God’. It symbolizes strength, longevity, resistance and hope. Through the harvest of its fruits, animal fodder and extracted oil, it provides a source of livelihood for millions of people living in poor and very isolated areas of Morocco.

The argan tree (Argania Spinosa) is a relic to the Tertiary era and is extremely adaptable to environmentally challenging conditions. The long roots of the tree allow it to reach water located deep under the soil, preventing desertification as well as supplying nutrition and shade to thousands of other plants and species. The argan tree grows extremely slowly, often taking up to fifteen years to mature.

Argan trees are very resilient and capable of going into a dormant phase during periods of extreme drought and other harsh weather conditions. They are endemic to Morocco and only grow in the arid Southwestern parts of the country, which stretch over the 800,000 hectares.

The argan forest is a unique ecosystem with the combination of subtropical temperatures and mist from the Atlantic Ocean. The forest gained UNESCO recognition in 1998 when it became protected as a World Biosphere Reserve.  The tree is very hard to transplant which makes reforestation efforts difficult and almost impossible to grow on a valuable scale outside of Morocco. 

Ripe Argan fruit


The hard nuts that are inside the Argan fruit


The tiny kernels that are inside the hard nut. These kernels can be cold pressed to extract the oil from it


Argan oil

What is argan oil?

In recent years, Argan Oil has become world renowned for its beauty and health benefits.

Argan oil is a bi-product extracted from kernels inside the fruits of the argan tree and has been produced for centuries by the indigenous Amazigh (commonly referred to as Berbers) women of Morocco. With the establishment of women’s argan oil cooperatives in predominantly Amazigh villages all over Morocco, women have, for the first time, been able to seek paid employment outside the household. While the commercialization of argan oil products has gained international fame on the high-end cosmetic market in recent years.

As described above, the argan forest is very important to the people who inhabited it and subsisted from it for centuries. The argan tree has scientifically been proven to provide substances of great health and medicinal benefits and can, in the future, continue to be used to heal, cure and prevent heart problems.

Women working at an Argan oil cooperative, pressing oil out of the kernels the traditional way. Today, cooperatives use cold press machines for this process

A forest of socio-economic importance

Today, the argan forest is diminishing rapidly and stands in great danger of eventually disappearing. During the course of the last century alone, the argan forest’s area has diminished by more than half while tree density in some areas is sixty-percent lower than it was only fifty years ago.

Currently, the biggest threat of Argan forest extinction is the irreversible process of desertification. It is estimated that about 2,2 million people currently live within the Argan forest area (2011). These people play an important role in protecting the forest. Unfortunately, environmental issues are rarely a top priority to these people, which more often than not, live well below the poverty line.

Argan Care works to protect the forest from diminishing so that an important eco-system can thrive. The The socio-economic importance of the forest is also a strong force in the work of Argan Care, securing livelihoods for thousands of people.

We are very pleased that the Argan tree has received such a strong recognition from the United Nations, that now, May 10, is the official day of the Argan tree.



Tree of Empowerment MSc Thesis