Nature and Biodiversity

This is everything you need to know about the Argan tree

A close view of an Argan tree

Argan trees have multiple benefits, with one being their ability to help slow desertification Image: Unsplash/Camping Aourir

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Morocco

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  • Wild plants offer medical and nutritional benefits, as well as economic opportunities, for communities across the world.
  • The Argan tree is indigenous to parts of North Africa and provides a living for millions of local people, especially women, through the sale of Argan oil.
  • The United Nations has given protected status to one region of Morocco where Argan forests are under threat from climate change and deforestation.

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

One of those is the Argan tree which is native to parts of Morocco, Algeria and the Western Sahara. For centuries it has been a mainstay of the Berber and Arab-origin indigenous rural communities who developed a culture and identity around it.

In Southwest Morocco, renowned for its extensive Argan forests, the UN estimates the trees provide economic opportunities for three million people. Many of the harvesters are women who belong to the Amazigh indigenous nomadic minority.

5 benefits of the Argan tree

1. The tree can withstand temperatures up to 50°C and helps slow desertification. It contributes to livelihoods and food security in 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 moisturise and support hair and skin.

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

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

Forests under threat

But Argan forest habitats remain under threat as a result of deforestation, increased droughts and rising temperatures. In response, UNESCO has designated the Arganeraie area of south-west Morocco as a Biosphere Reserve as well as adding it to the World Heritage List. And in 2021 the UN 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 continues to occur at an alarming rate. The world has lost a third of its forests in the last 10,000 years, according to Our World in Data.

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

forest cover Argan tree deforestation
Most deforestation is human-driven. Image: UNEP/reforestationworld.org

Forests cover almost a third of the world’s surface. They are critical to the health of the planet by capturing carbon, regulating global temperatures and acting as flood barriers. They also filter air pollution, reduce city heat, and can help future drug discoveries to treat diseases. Around 1.6 billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures, rely on forests for their livelihoods. As one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, they are home to over 80% of species of animals, insects and plants.

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Hope for the future

However, the rate of annual deforestation decreased by around 29% per year in 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 restoring 21 million hectares of deforested and degraded land, and the Great Green Wall Initiative in the Sahel region of Africa.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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