Practices and know-how concerning the Argan Tree in Morocco
1. ICH domains
Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, traditional craftsmanship
2. Short description
Argan trees are a species endemic to the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve in southwest Morocco. Women living on the reserve practice traditional methods to extract argan oil from the fruit of the tree.
Argan oil is employed in ancient medicinal remedies and utilised in cosmetic preparations, which have nowadays spread around the world. It is also given as a wedding gift and used extensively in the preparation of festive dishes.
All the cultural aspects of the argan tree, including the cultivation of the tree, oil extraction, the preparation of recipes and derived products, and the creating of traditional tools for the various tasks, contribute to social cohesion, understanding between individuals and mutual respect between communities. Traditional know-how specific to the extraction of the oil and its multiple uses is systematically transmitted by ‘argan women’, who teach their daughters from a young age to put it into practice. The production of argan oil also provides socioeconomic benefit to women by giving them employment and income.
This element was inscribed by UNESCO in 2014 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. See nomination file:
For a brief description of the history and habitat of the argan tree:
For a comprehensive description of its uses, especially in food, medicines and cosmetics:
3. Link with sustainable development
Traditional methods of exploiting different parts of the argan tree (e.g. bark, foliage, wood, etc.), the oil extracted from its fruits and the products derived from the latter, all contribute to sustainable development. Respect for the tree and its ecological environment is reflected in the traditional practice of protecting the argan tree areas from grazing during certain times of the year, so as to allow the tree to regenerate and the fruit to mature. This contributes towards SDG 12 aimed at ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, as reflected in the sustainable management and efficient use of this natural resource. The introduction of a system of cooperatives, designed for the production and commercialisation of argan oil and its derivative products, has also encouraged women and young girls to join this trade, enhancing their participation and echoing SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
4. Questions for reflection
Argan forests have suffered from extensive deforestation and industrial exploitation over the last century. The government has since undertaken an argan tree reforestation project to address the problem of deforestation and desertification. The State also issued a decree on ‘Protected Geographical Indications’, which specify standards for the extraction of argan oil, thus guaranteeing its quality and origin and adding value to the work of argan women. Government agencies, foundations and local associations run awareness-raising campaigns with a view to ensuring the preservation of the argan forest and protecting it from any abuse. As part of these efforts, a nature conservation centre has been established, solar ovens have been distributed to residents to reduce firewood consumption and a community museum entirely dedicated to argan tree trades has been planned, as well as a festival of the argan tree. As home to this rare and endangered species, the argan forest was also declared an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1998. Nevertheless, the argan tree remains an endangered species, in part threatened by the increased demand for its products.
On the dangers of over-commercialisation, see, for instance:
Several measures have already been taken to protect the Argan tree which is required for the viability of this ICH. Are there any other actions you can think of that could be undertaken to overcome extensive deforestation and industrial exploitation? What could be the role of the different stakeholders involved?
Women are at the centre of this practice. They hold and transmit the knowledge and skills related to this practice. In how far does this ICH contribute to gender equality? Do you know of similar examples?