'Free, local and special': argan oil co-ops booming in Morocco

Ripe, yellow argan berries fall to the ground in the courtyard of the Ajddigue women’s argan co-operative in the village of Tidzi, 25km south of Essaouira. Under the argan trees handmade beauty products are on sale.

Khaltoum Alta, who has worked at this co-op since 2005, deftly smashes a dried nut shell on a stone, discarding the bitter kernel and picking out the almond heart of the argan fruit.

“I’m the sole earner in my family after my father died in 2011,” she says. “My job here has allowed me to look after my mother, sister and little brother. He will be starting at university in Agadir in September; without my wages he wouldn’t be able to – he needs at least 500 dirham a month for his rent and food.”

Ajddigue – which means flower in the Amazigh Berber language – is one in a network of 30 co-operatives that, since 1996, have been turning Morocco’s “gold” into a thriving business that is changing women’s lives. It is not only giving them money and access to international markets, it is also giving them status and turning traditional views about the role of women in society on their head.

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