In the arid mountains of southern Morocco, local women harvest argan oil, a natural product they have long used in cooking but which has become highly prized by the global beauty industry as an anti-aging treatment. of the skin and restorative for the hair.
Most of the argan oil is produced by local cooperatives of Amazigh-speaking Berber women around the cities of Agadir, Essaouira and Taroudant where the argan tree, which bears small green fruits resembling an olive, is running.
For centuries, the oil, among the most expensive in the world, has been extracted by drying the fruits of the argan tree in the sun, peeling and crushing the fruits and then crushing and crushing the almond with pits.
The oil was traditionally used as a flavorful flavor and dip for bread. As an ingredient, it is still common in Morocco and now also exported for food.
However, its use as a beauty product has created an increase in demand for the oil by international cosmetic companies. It also means that local groups are investing in more attractive packaging. The oil now costs around $ 30-50 (£ 21-36) per liter locally, but can sell internationally in smaller premium bottles up to $ 250 (£ 178) per liter.
In the Tiout oasis near Taroudant (600 km south of Rabat), the Taitmatine cooperative employs 100 women to produce argan oil, providing them with a salary, free childcare, health insurance and literacy classes.
The cooperative, whose name in Amazigh means “sisters”, was created in 2002.
Although the new machines they are using to help process the fruit have helped speed up labor, women still have to remove the hard shell from the pits by hand by pounding it with a stone, before the inner pit can be removed. pressed by a machine to extract the oil.
“It takes up to three days of grinding for each woman to get a liter of argan oil,” said Mina Ait Taleb, director of the Taitmatin cooperative.
“We work here but we also have fun and sing together,” said Zahra Haqqi speaking in a room where dozens of women were crushing outdoor argan pits with stones.
Ms. Haqi said the work helped her earn a steady income.