Argan oil production is expected to increase significantly, however, there are threats to this growth
With a growing number of applications for argan oil in the fields of cosmetics, medical treatments and culinary use, Morocco can expect to profit from the growth in demand. Latest figures show that 4835.5 tons were exported in 2014, and if the trend continues, this should reach 19,622.5 tons in 2022.
The argan oil boom is due to an increase in global demand due to recognition of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. The cosmetics industry used 42% of the volume of argan oil exported in 2014, primarily in anti-aging treatments, skin protection or hair products.
Argan oil is also becoming more important in the food industry, where the oil is prescribed for the control of cholesterol and for people with heart disease, low metabolism or mineral deficiency. The oil is also used in the treatment of diseases such as cancer, arthritis, obesity, acne and other skin conditions.
In Asia-Pacific, the oil export is expected to increase driven by growing demand in the food sector (China, Japan, South Korea) and the medical sector. In countries like China, India and Japan with ageing of populations, there is also expected to be an increase in demand.
In Morocco argan oil is mainly produced by women's cooperatives.
The argan tree (Argania spinosa) is endemic to Morocco, where it is second in coverage only to the cork oak tree. Its deep roots are the most important stabilizing element in the arid ecosystem, providing the final barrier against the encroaching deserts. Despite its uniqueness and indispensability, the argan tree faces a variety of serious threats.
Nearly half of the argan forest disappeared during the 20th century – and average density in the remaining half dropped from 100 to less than 30 trees per hectare. This historical pressure on the forest was driven by demand for high quality charcoal, (especially important during the World Wars) and, more recently, conversion to agricultural production of export crops such as tomatoes.
While neither of these pressures on argan forest originated from locals, the important contemporary forest threats do. Particularly important among these threats are local intensification of livestock grazing and the encroachment of housing development – driven in part by recent European demand for rural real estate near popular tourist destinations such as Essaouira.
While Morocco currently has a monopoly of the world production of argan oil, there is a threat from the intensive cultivation of argan in Israel.
After 25 years of agricultural research, an Israeli company has developed Sivan Argan 100, a strain which can produce 10 times more nuts than the average of a tree in Morocco, and is also resistant to disease and bugs. Also, the Mediterranean climate of Israel has also offers favourable conditions for the cultivation of argan. "Sivan is the only company that knows how to grow and know precisely how argan oil can be produced every year," says Chaim Oren, head of the agricultural department of the company, Shalom Life. However, currently the production of Israeli argan is limited. "You have to wait 15 years for nuts grow on Argan trees that will ultimately produce no more than two litres of oil," he says. Sivan now sells argan oil to wholesalers. The Israeli's next goal is to sell their unique 100 Argan strain to other countries.