The “Dark Side” of the Argan Oil Business

Not too long ago I came across this article:  Argan Oil ~ “Liquid Gold” ~ At What Cost?  And as I’m not afraid of a challenge, I thought I would take the time to respond to the author’s concerns.

He (she?) first discusses the inflated prices of Argan Oil.  When there is a limited supply and a significant demand, yes, costs do increase.  Hopefully, the local Moroccan women making the oil are still benefitting from the popularity of this commodity at least to some extent.

At Saadia Organics we know we do not have the cheapest Argan Oil on the market, nor do we have the most expensive.  We are confident that we are getting the most authentic and pure cosmetic-grade Argan Oil to you.  We use no machinery – all of our oil is cold-pressed by hand using the most traditional methods and that takes many hours of labour.  We add nothing to it, and we take nothing away.  This is the real thing.

We also know that we pay the women who manufacture our oil a very fair price.  In fact, their hourly wage is better than what they would receive if they did their work right here in Vancouver, Canada rather than in Essaouira, Morocco!  And we know they deserve every cent.  This is not easy work that they are doing.

Later in the article, the author goes on to criticize the mixing of Argan Oil with other ingredients.   We whole heartedly agree with his assessment here.  Argan Oil is incredible on its own.  It’s a shame to mess with it – especially when potentially harmful ingredients are added.

So we leave the concocting of potions up to you.  If you’d like to mix your Argan Oil with some raw cane sugar to make an exfoliating scrub, then by all means, do it!  If you want to mix some Argan Oil with lemon juice to soak your nails and cuticles in, that’s wonderful!  I’ve been known to mix a few drops of Argan Oil with a drop of Tea Tree Oil and a drop of Lavendar Oil to put on a blemish.  But I cannot imagine adding silicones, parabens or other nasties to my precious Argan Oil.

The next point that the author raises is this:

Over recent years, the women’s co-operatives have been at the forefront of the Argan Oil boom that began in the 1990s. However, recently, the men are moving in and there is a growing problem with diluted oil, bogus co-operatives and a lack of accreditation.

Again, we agree with his assessment.  Saadia – our production manager, my mother in law, and the person whom our company is named after, is highly suspicious of all Argan Oil other than her own.  It is common knowledge that there are a lot of fakes in Morocco and those fakes get shipped all over the world.  Some is just diluted or poorly manufactured, but should be enough to make buyers wary of purchasing a lot of the Argan Oil that is available.

This is a product that I now know well.  When I entered a flashy cosmetics store a few months ago to sample one popular brand of “pure” Argan Oil I was alarmed.  It didn’t look like Argan Oil (too thin!).  It didn’t smell like Argan Oil (no scent at all!)  And it didn’t feel like Argan Oil (it was kind of slimy!)  But at least it wasn’t sticky or it didn’t sting.  Some of the other brands we’ve been hearing about sound like they are bottling something really frightening and calling it “Argan Oil”.

To confirm my suspicions, I dragged my husband (Saadia’s son) to the mall and asked him to try this supposed Argan Oil.  I thought he would laugh, but he actually looked a bit angry, saying “I have no idea what this is, but it’s definitely not Argan Oil.  How can they get away with selling this?  It’s like that canola oil we have in our kitchen…”

As for Argan Oil co-operatives that the author speaks of, I will now make myself unpopular, and admit that I’m not a fan of them.  As much as I hope there are many good ones in south-western Morocco, the ones I’ve visited have been less than enjoyable.  They have women on display making the oil right in front of you and they look nothing other than miserable.  Tourists take their pictures just as they would take pictures of animals in a zoo.  After the photos are snapped, the women point grimly to a basket for people to put some money in.

We are very fortunate in that Saadia has an unlimited number of female relatives and friends who are more than willing to make our Argan Oil with her.  These are women we know, love and trust.  They get together in a private place and have fun doing their work together.  No one is gawking at them or putting cameras in their faces.  As a rule, Moroccans don’t really enjoy having their pictures taken.  Especially the women, as it is in their faith tradition to be modest, and having their photograph taken and shown to the world is not comfortable at all for them.

Again, I really hope there are some wonderful, fair and comfortable Argan co-ops out there.  I have just have not had the privilege to visit them quite yet.

In addition to all of this, the author of the article is very concerned for the future of the Argan forests.

To make the situation even worse, there are negative impacts on the actual Argan forests themselves. Local people are calling for action.

Yet again, we agree with this statement.  In order to make the most money, many farms growing Argan trees have some very destructive practices.  First, they have goats on the farms.  Goats climb Argania spinosa trees to graze.  The trees are fragile and branches are often broken in the process.  The goats are there for two reasons – they can be raised and eventually sold and they also are a lure for the tourists.  Who doesn’t want a picture of a tree full of goats?  I admit I have several photographs of this from my trips to Morocco.  It is quite a sight to see.  The farmers allow tourists on their land, allow them to take pictures, then ask for a donation.  I no longer will be supporting this damaging practice.

Harvesting is also an issue.  In order to get as much fruit as quickly as possible, aggressive techniques are sometimes used. This further damages the trees and hurts the delicate buds needed in order for the tree to bear fruit the next year.

One thing the Argan Oil boom has done is made it impossible to cut the trees down for use as fuel.  The forests are now protected.  At Saadia Organics, we are committed to helping the situation instead of making it worse.

Saadia inherited a farm a couple of years back and she has been growing olives on her property.  Now, she is in the process of growing her own Argan trees.  We look forward to using only our own fruit to make our oil some day.

For now, we have found an excellent farmer who supplies us with our Argan fruit.  Saadia’s son in law was teaching in a town called Ait Daoud in Essaouira province and he came to know this gentleman well a few years ago.  His farm is away from the highway and hence is away from the picture-taking tourists, and it is, of course, 100% goat-free.  He babies his trees and uses only the gentlest harvesting process.  He waits for the fruit to fall of the trees on its own, and it is just picked up off the ground.  We are very happy to know him well and have him supply us with what we need to get Saadia Organics Argan Oil to you.

Like any industry, the Argan Oil business is not perfect.  But it is an amazing product, and it is bringing money into the hands of Moroccan women and as a result is increasing the educational opportunities for young girls.  The majority of women over 40 have not been educated and have little chance of making any sort of income for themselves.  The Argan Oil industry is a way for them to support themselves and their families.

It is our hope that our initiatives will positively impact this industry and protect this precious commodity not just for now, but in the long term.

If you have any other ideas of how we can bring you the most eco-friendly, authentic and ethical Argan Oil, please let us know! 

Joèl~

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The “Dark Side” of the Argan Oil Business

  1. Veronika says:

    I love this post! Thanks for educating us about this 🙂
    -Veronika

    • I think I’m better at commenting on *your* blog than I am on my own. 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting.

      The Argan Oil business is an interesting one, that’s for sure. We’re doing everything we can to make it better.

      j~

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