Morocco is fighting climate change with Liquid Gold
Argan oil has long been one of the source of livelihoods and health for Morocco’s Berber population in the High Atlas Mountains. While Argan forests still cover around 820,000 hectares in the mountains, one-third of the original tree coverage has already been lost due to pressures from charcoal production and unsustainable agricultural practices in the immediate environment of the trees. In addition, the advance of desertification into the orchard areas has increasingly threatened livelihoods for the local communities.
The local population has long been aware of the manifold benefits of Argan oil. Argan trees produce little, yellowish fruit, which contain golden seeds of oil in the kernel. The oil is found to have strong antioxidant effects, but can also be used to treat high cholesterol, rheumatism and cancer. As a food oil, it has a delicious nutty flavor. Now, growing interest from the cosmetics and food industry have led to a ‘gold rush” which has overextended the land.
The Moroccan government sees high demand for Argan oil (“Liquid Gold”) on international markets as an opportunity to tie climate change targets to its sustainable development goals through the conservation and expansion of the Argan forest.
Argan trees are also a true bastion against desertification. As a deep-rooted fellow, which can reach 10 meters in height and can live for 200 years, the Argan Tree (Argania spinosa), can bore deep into the ground, halting soil erosion and the advance of desertification. Indigenous to arid climates, the tree also has an amazing ability to adapt to severe droughts by simply going dormant until it can sense moisture in the air once again.
This is why the Moroccan government decided to focus one of its mitigation actions – or NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action) - on Argan oil production. While smallholders in the area traditionally relied on a sylvo-pastoral approach – an agricultural approach drawing on the synergies between forests and grazing life stock – increased demand for Argan oil called for a new, sustainable approach. With the NAMA, modern techniques will be introduced to raise production levels in a sustainable way. A key objective is thereby the conservation of remaining wild Argan forests, along with the rehabilitation of degraded areas for Argan oil production. After the oil pressing process, the pressed argan fruits will serve as fodder and therefore be a useful by-product. Argan tree orchards will be established in other suitable areas as well to reduce anthropogenic and industrial pressure on wild Argan forests.
The NAMA will therefore increase Morocco’s potential for carbon capture, while improving livelihoods for the local population – primarily Berber women - who collect and process the fruits. The project is based on careful management of the value chain, involving the establishment of cooperatives to manage the orchards, process the oil and sell the by-products (primarily livestock feed) of the oil production.
According to a scoping study, an estimated 3 million hectares of land are deemed suitable for Argan Tree orchards. If this coverage could be realized, Argan forests could serve as significant carbon sinks. On average, Argan trees are estimated to absorb around 6.7 tons CO2-equivalent per hectare on an annual basis. The mitigation action is also estimated to eventually benefit more than 2 million smallholders and women farmers, if it is fully realized.
The climate action plan is fully aligned with Morocco’s climate target commitments (INDC) along with its national policies, including the National Strategy for Renewable Energy Development and Promotion of Energy Efficiency, the National Plan to Fight Global Warming, as well as a National Charter on Sustainable Development and Environment, and a Green Morocco Plan.
The NAMA was developed in cooperation with UNDP’s Low Emission Capacity Building Programme through the generous support of the European Commission, and Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and the Australian government.