The argan tree provides food, shelter, and protection from desertification. The trees’ deep roots help prevent desert encroachment. The canopy of argan trees also provides shade for other agricultural products, and the leaves and fruit provide feed for animals.
The argan tree also helps landscape stability, helping to prevent soil erosion, providing shade for pasture grasses, and helping to replenish aquifers.
Producing argan oil has helped to protect argan trees from being cut down. In addition, regeneration of the Arganeraie has also been carried out: in 2009 an operation to plant 4,300 argan plants was launched in Meskala in the province of Essaouira.
The Réseau des Associations de la Réserve de Biosphère Arganeraie (Network of Associations of the Argan Biosphere Reserve, RARBA) was founded in 2002 with the aim of ensuring sustainable development in the Arganeraie.
RARBA has been involved with several major projects, including the Moroccan national anti-desertification programme (Programme National de Lutte Contre la desertification, PAN/LCD). The project involved local populations and helped with improvements to basic infrastructure, management of natural resources, revenue-generating activities (including argan oil production), capacity reinforcement, and others.
The production of argan oil has always had a socioeconomic function. At present, argan oil production supports about 2.2 million people in the main argan oil-producing region, the Arganeraie.
Much of the argan oil produced today is made by a number of women’s co-operatives. Co-sponsored by the Social Development Agency with the support of the European Union, the Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie is the largest union of argan oil co-operatives in Morocco. It comprises 22 co-operatives that are found in other parts of the region.
Employment in the co-operatives provides women with an income, which many have used to fund education for themselves or their children. It has also provided them with a degree of autonomy in a traditionally male-dominated society and has helped many become more aware of their rights.