Here’s everything you need to know about the argan tree

  • Wild plants provide medical and nutritional benefits, as well as economic opportunities, for communities around the world.
  • The argan tree is indigenous to parts of North Africa and supports millions of local people, especially women, through the sale of argan oil.
  • The United Nations has granted protected status to a region of Morocco where argan forests are threatened by climate change and deforestation.

Wild plants are used by over a billion people around the world in a variety of beneficial ways. They are present in the foods we eat, the medicines we take and even cosmetic products. At least a billion people depend on it for their livelihoods and food security. Between 2000 and 2020, the global trade value of medicinal plants has increased by more than 75%. However, 20% are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, unsustainability and climate change according to the United Nations (UN).

One of them is the argan tree, native to parts of Morocco, Algeria and Western Sahara. For centuries it has been a mainstay of indigenous rural communities of Berber and Arab descent that have developed a culture and identity around it.

In southwestern Morocco, renowned for its vast forests of argan trees, the UN estimates that the trees provide economic opportunities for three million people. Many harvesters are women belonging to the nomadic indigenous Amazigh minority.

5 benefits of the argan tree

1. The tree can withstand temperatures up to 50°C and helps to slow down desertification. It contributes to the livelihoods and food security of regional communities.

2. Argan oil has been used in Berber folk medicine for centuries to treat skin conditions, rheumatism and heart disease.

3. Its fruits are often used in beauty products. Its oil is rich in natural vitamins, essential fats and antioxidants that help moisturize and support hair and skin.

4. Argan oil is used in Moroccan cooking for its rich, nutty flavor. It is also used to add flavor to salad dressings and is mixed into couscous.

5. The soft pulp surrounding the nut and seed paste from which the oil is extracted is used as feed for sheep, goats, camels and cattle. The fruits and leaves of the argan tree are also eaten by livestock.

Forests under threat

But argan forest habitats remain under threat due to deforestation, increasing droughts and rising temperatures. In response, UNESCO designated the Arganeraie region of southwestern Morocco as a biosphere reserve and added it to the World Heritage List. And in 2021, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed May 10 as the International Day of Argania. The resolution was submitted by Morocco and co-sponsored by 113 Member States.

The UN says deforestation and degradation continue to occur at an alarming rate. The world has lost a third of its forests in the past 10,000 years, according to Our World in Data.

Our global food system and its use of agricultural land continue to be the main driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss.

forest cover deforestation of the argan tree

Most deforestation is human-caused.

Image: UNEP/

Forests cover almost a third of the earth’s surface. They are essential to the health of the planet by sequestering carbon, regulating global temperatures and acting as barriers against flooding. They also filter air pollution, reduce city heat, and may help future drug discoveries to treat disease. About 1.6 billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures, depend on forests for their livelihoods. As one of the most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystems, they are home to more than 80% of the species of animals, insects and plants.

Hope for the future

However, the annual deforestation rate decreased by about 29% per year during the decade 2000-2010. Many global initiatives – like the Trillion Trees Project, which aims to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees by 2030 – are already well underway. Others include India’s commitment to restore 21 million hectares of deforested and degraded land, and the Great Green Wall Initiative in Africa’s Sahel region.

Stopping deforestation is essential to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as road travel worldwide, yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and Southeast Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate the investing in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous peoples, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of products often blamed for causing deforestation to put in place supply chains without deforestation.

The 2020 Agenda for Commodities and Forests summarizes the areas where the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The 2020 Rainforest Alliance is gaining ground in the fight against deforestation linked to the production of four raw materials: palm oil, beef, soy and paper pulp.

Contact us to join our mission to stop deforestation.

About Wesley V. Finley

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