Argan oil: Morocco's 'desert gold' and the fight for its survival

Story highlights

  • Argan trees play a huge role in Morocco's environmental and economic growth
  • Moroccan women crush the tough Argan tree nuts and extract its inner kernel -- which is used to create the precious golden oil sold across the world

(CNN)Once upon a time, in the heart of Morocco's arid land, tree-climbing goats played a vital role in the country's lucrative Argan oil industry.

The hungry animals would climb onto the thorny trees, native to Morocco, and eat their fruit and leaves.
    But the kernels, which are encased within the fruit's incredibly strong nut, couldn't be digested by the goats. So enterprising locals collected them from the animal's droppings and turned them into precious golden oil.
      The oil, now produced by local indigenous women, has been used for centuries by locals for medicinal and culinary purposes. But recently it's gathered a cult-like following in the global cosmetic market. Full of antioxidants and vitamin E, the oil has been praised as having conditioning and anti-aging properties that benefit both hair and skin.
      However, because of this surge in popularity, agricultural exploitation and climate change has left the Argan trees struggling to survive.

      'The last curtain in front of the desert'

      Once Argan trees covered the entire region of North Africa, but due to overgrazing and deforestation their numbers rapidly declined.
      For a while, the value of the trees went unnoticed -- until the oil industry boomed -- bringing more than $6.5 million per year into Morocco's economy.
      Argan trees help support the local environment by providing soil stabilization.