Rural Tourism in Southwest Morocco

Often one of the best ways to experience Morocco is off the beaten path, immersed in the elements of nature, or in its towns and villages. As you reap the benefits of experiencing hidden treasures, in return rural tourism is a bonus for sustainable development, helping to increase employment and incomes in rural areas.

Driving through the Anti Atlas mountains, which are forested with argan trees, we arrive in the Moroccan village of Mesti, situated between Sidi Ifni and Guelmim in the Tiznit Province in Southwest Morocco -about a half hour from the Atlantic coast. Our destination is Tafyouch, a Women’s Argan Cooperative, where we are greeted by Nadia El Hilali, the Cooperative’s Director. Tafyouch, which means “argan” in the Berber dialect, produces by-products of the argan tree such as argan oil and natural cosmetic products.

Tafyouch was created in 1998 with the assistance of l’Association Ait Baamrane in Sidi Ifni in partnership with the NGO Oxfam-QuÃ?©bec, who assists women in establishing cooperatives by providing technical expertise on management, production and sales. The cooperative, run entirely by local women, endeavors to improve the social and economic status of rural women by providing a space for woman to earn a livelihood while combining their resources and developing leadership and literacy skills. Tafyouch also has a conservation and reforestation program to protect the argan forest.

The Argan Tree (Argania Spinosa)
The argan tree is a thorny evergreen native to south western Morocco. Perfectly adapted to the South Western arid regions of Morocco, argan is hardy and resistant, surviving in poor soil under drought conditions, requiring no cultivation. It can live from 150 to 200 years and reach heights of 8-10 meters.

The argan forest, endemic to Southwest Morocco, spans an area of 700,000 – 800,000 hectares, and contains about 21 million trees. The forest supports more than 3 million Berbers, the original inhabitants of Morocco, by providing them with wood and nut-shells for heating fuel, feed for livestock, as well as edible oil for cooking, cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

The roots of the argan tree grow deep in search of water, which help prevent soil erosion and limit desertification. Thus, the argan tree plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance and the economic situation of the rural population. In 1999, UNESCO added the argan tree to the World Heritage List. Although the argan is Morocco’s second most common tree species, in less than a century more than a third of the argan forest has disappeared and is now threatened by extinction.

Like peaches, almonds or olives, argan fruit is a drupe with an outer fleshy exterior that surrounds an ovate hard shelled nut. This nut contains up to 3 kernels of the argan almond, from which the argan oil is extracted. The fruit is bitter, ovoid in shape, and lime green when unripe. At maturity during the months of July and August, the fruit turns bright yellow.

The Production Process
Berber women harvest and make the oil mostly by traditional methods, a labor intensive process even with an electric press and filtering machine. One liter of extracted oil requires 32 kg of fruit, equal to 2.5 kg of kernels, and 12 hours of work. Tafyoucht produces about 500 liters of oil per month.

Women gather the drupes and dry them in the sun. A machine separates the nut from the flesh. Each nut then must be cracked open to remove the kernels, done by hand between two stones. The kernels then are manually sorted from the nut shells. The kernels destined for culinary argan oil are roasted by mild heating to bring out their flavor, whereas those intended for cosmetic purpose are left unroasted. Next they are put through a mechanical press for grinding and extraction, and then filtered. It’s a cold first pressed oil yielding a high nutritive quality, and is 100% pure and natural.

Argan Products
For centuries, Berber women of the Atlas region have produced argan oil, used for its cosmetic and nutritional properties and in traditional Moroccan medicine. Argan oil is rich in vitamin E, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. The oil has high dietetic value, similar to that of olive oil. It is claimed to have various medicinal properties such as lowering cholesterol levels, stimulating circulation, treating arthritis and strengthening the body’s natural defense system.

Argan culinary oil, with a unique, exotic aroma, and a delicious, earthy, nutty flavor, is a favorite ingredient of many gourmets. Amlou is a heavenly delight created with almonds, argan oil and sweetened with honey. Reminiscent of almond butter, it is served as a bread dip, on crepes, or even on ice cream. Argan cosmetic oil nourishes and hydrates the skin, is used to protect the skin from the signs of aging, as massage oil, anti-scarring and anti-acne agent or aftershave. It is also used in treatments for rheumatism, brittle fingernails, chicken pox and sunburns. After cosmetic oil extraction the kernel residue is used to make hydrating soap, as well as an intensive hair mask conditioning treatment, known for improving hair strength and allure and for its anti-dandruff qualities.

No part of the argan fruit is wasted. Once the nuts are extracted, the shells are used as fuel for heating and cooking and the remnants of the fruit flesh are sold as cattle feed.

The purchase of these products contributes to literacy programs and to the protection of a forest which the local inhabitants depend on. Most of all it increases the livelihoods of countless women and their families. As you explore this fascinating region you can witness how mutually beneficial this is. Enjoy!

Travel details
To visit the Cooperative Tachyout, from Sidi Ifni head east towards Guelmim until you arrive in Mesti. Keep in mind that they are closed Sundays. Tel/fax: +212-(0)28-86-72-52. Mesti, Cercle d’Ifni.

Lodging: The Auberge CafÃ?© Restaurant Legzira, “Chez Abdoul”, in itself is worth the trip. It sits on an 8 km long unspoiled sandy beach, about 2.5 hours south of Agadir and 10 km north of Sidi Ifni. The beautiful secluded Legzira Bay is home to fantastic natural stone arches reaching the sea. On the terrace indulge in fresh grilled fish, unforgettable fish tagines, home made fries and delicious salads. There is no electricity, but candlelight is a romantic way to contemplate the stars and your Moroccan experience. You will find very comfortable beds, clean facilities, and reasonable prices. http://elgzira.free.fr/

For adventurers, Legzira beach attracts paragliders from all over the world. Paragliding can be arranged through the auberge.

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