The unique argan forests in Morocco’s Souss-Massa region are a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, yet they have barely been opened up to visitors to date. Commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is promoting sustainable tourism in rural areas as a way of creating employment and income opportunities for the local population. To this end, it has also been supporting the Akkain Ouargane women’s cooperative since 2013. Thanks to the use of modern machinery in several production steps and training, the cooperative has increased the quality and quantity of the organic argan oil it produces. It has also doubled its revenue through the sale of its products to tourists and customers abroad. Managing Director Jamila Raissi explains how a total of 350 women and their families are now benefiting from these changes. The project is part of a special initiative designed to stabilise and promote development in North Africa and the Middle East run by the BMZ.
What is so unique about the argan tree and argan oil?
Argan trees only grow in the Souss-Massa region of south-western Morocco. For generations, the women have used the nuts to produce cooking and cosmetic oils, as well as amlou, a spread containing argan oil, almonds and honey. Argan oil is good for your health and your skin, and is part of the cultural heritage of the Berber people.
How did the Akkain Ouargane cooperative come into existence?
In the past, the women from the village processed the nuts by hand at home. Their husbands then attempted to sell the oil on roadsides and in the commercial quarters, or souks as they are known locally. But this did not provide them with a sufficient income, which is why the women decided to set up a cooperative to facilitate the sale of the oil. Getting all the relevant paperwork together was hard work, but we managed it by 2007.
How has the cooperative developed since then?
The group did not manage to set up a suitable financial-management and accounting system immediately. As a qualified accountant, I showed the women how to document the production process, and they asked me to take on the role of managing director. Things then progressed quickly when we received support from GIZ.
How exactly did GIZ support the cooperative?
GIZ financed roasting machines, oil presses, filters and filling devices, which have significantly improved the quantity and quality of our oil production. Taking part in technical and business training has allowed the women and me to professionalise our work. And GIZ has also enabled us to participate in international trade fairs. As a result, our marketing strategy is now far more sophisticated and geared to a greater extent towards sustainable tourism.
What role does the tourism sector play for you?
We benefit from one another: we work with the tourism industry, local hotels and tour operators. Ecotourism also brings many foreign visitors to us. They can gain an insight into our traditional ways of living and working and buy our products. This has stimulated our business and allowed us to increase our revenue by 50 per cent.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope that we can continue producing argan oil sustainably and responsibly, despite growing demand. To this end, we must ensure that we protect the trees from grazing goats, exploitation and pollution."