Fadma and the forest: Learning from the past for a flourishing future in rural Morocco

Fadma and the forest: Learning from the past for a flourishing future in rural Morocco

Fadma and the forest: Learning from the past for a flourishing future in rural Morocco

Fadma and the forest: Learning from the past for a flourishing future in rural Morocco

“Women play an irreplaceable role in preserving the Argan forests,” said Jamila Idbourrous, director of the Union of Argan Oil Women’s Cooperatives in Agadir, Morocco. 

Known as the “tree of life”, Morocco’s native Argan tree is critical to the economic and cultural well-being of millions of people. The export of Argan oil, used worldwide for cooking and cosmetics, has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Meanwhile, local Moroccan communities use the oil to treat illnesses, and the tree’s fruit, leaves and seed pulp to feed livestock. 

Fadma Haddi is one woman whose fate has become intertwined with that of the Argan forests near her home in Agadir, Morocco. She makes her living cultivating Argan trees and harvesting their nuts to produce oil. 

Women like her have practised sustainable harvesting for generations – and these traditions have only become more important as the global climate crisis takes grip. While Argan trees are hardy and can withstand drought and severe heat, Morocco’s forests have begun to shrink as temperatures have risen. 

This deterioration has the potential to compromise the lives and futures of the women and girls who tend the forests. “When climate disaster strikes, it’s a disaster for women and girls,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.

Escalating temperatures, escalating threats for women and girls

According to research by UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, climate crises raise the risk that gender-based violence will occur, that access to essential sexual and reproductive health services will be challenging or suspended altogether,  and that maternal health outcomes will worsen.

Meanwhile, in Morocco, the climate-related risks posed to Argan forests also jeopardize the income women and girls derive from them, heightening the risk that many will slide into poverty, drop out of school or become vulnerable to violence and harmful practices like child marriage. 

To counter this, UNFPA supported the launch of a coalition of NGOs to help women and girls take on challenges associated with climate change. Fadma’s cooperative is a member of the coalition and a union of Argan oil harvesters in Agadir. Local cooperatives like Fadma’s employ tens of thousands of women to cultivate the trees and extract their oil. 

“The initiative is focused squarely on women and girls that are at risk of being left behind, especially girls that are not studying or working and living in rural areas,’ said UNFPA’s assistant representative for Morocco, Abdel-Ilah Yaakoubd.

“It puts a special emphasis on the big issues that affect them – from social protection to jobs and climate change – and it aims to improve their skills and opportunities in life.” 

Growing together 

Before Ms. Haddi joined the women’s cooperative, she did not make a regular income. Since joining the union, however, she has begun receiving a monthly payment for her work in the Argan forests. 

“The money helps us share household expenses and puts our children through school,” she said. 

The cooperative stands as an example of how preserving the natural world helps set future generations up to succeed. 

“Overall, these actions help to make women and girls, their communities and the forests they depend on even more resilient while conserving and learning from their rich heritage,” said Mr. Yaakoubd.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).