Public policies and land use changes in the Argane tree area: From collective multiple traditional functionalities to specialized and professional activities for global markets in Morocco.

Jean-Paul DUBEUF

INRA-LRDE, UR045, F-20250 Corte; France (jean-paul.dubeuf@inra.fr)

Introduction: Presentation of the argane tree area, its issues and objectives of the study

The argane tree area is well known to be a unique endemic plant formation and territory in South Western Morocco: The total area is included in four provinces with 25 687 km2 and 2.4 millions habitants. The Argane forest itself is known to cover 800 000 ha. For official statistics, the forest would have decreased regularly of 600 ha /year (Terrier et al., 2003)[1] and the average tree density from 100 trees to 30 per ha[2] (ANZOA, 2013). The farming system of the argane tree area was traditionally multipurpose and based on complementarities between the use of argane oil (initially for local use and cooking), crops, meat goats grazing in the forest and woods for fire. The ecological balance of the system was managed by customary laws to prevent overgrazing such as the “agdal” system (to forbid grazing at critical periods for the trees) with a strong relationship with forest services, the owner of the land. The recent development of the use of argane oil for the European cosmetic market has deeply changed this coherence. The region has also a strong touristic sector and the aerial grazing of goats on argane trees is an oddity valued to promote the region. The Argane tree Biosphere Reserve has been certified in 1998 and then by the Man in Biosphere program of UNESCO to preserve ecosystems, landscapes and cultural identity but also to fight poverty and favor the local social and economic development of the area. Besides, in 2014, know–how and practices on the argane tree have been registered by Morocco as an immaterial Heritage of Mankind.

This context has created a growing interest and conditions for financial supports. International Organizations (World Bank, FAO, UNESCO, IFAD…) have supported several projects following most of the SDGs[3] defined at the world level. The National Agricultural Policy is structured  by the ambitious Green Morocco Plan (GMP) to modernize agriculture, the Pillar I being implemented for competitive modern agriculture, the Pillar II to support solidarity agriculture in mountain and oasis areas, improve their social conditions and fight poverty (see table 1).

The objective of the communication is to identify how these policies and projects impact the agricultural activities in these areas and with what changes in land use.

Methodology: Textual analysis and reports of interviews and workshops

The study is based on the principles of the analysis of public policies (Muller, 1990) and considered that representations and mental models are key levers to define and govern these policies. It is based on the textual analysis of regional projects followed by reports of interviews and the participation of two local workshops and a debate between the institutional actors of the area. We analyzed here the projects in favor of the development of the Argane oil and the modernization of the kid meat of the local argane goat.


Table 1 – Objectives and funding of the GMP (CGDA, 2008)

Pillar I Pillar II Transversal
Objectives and levers Reconversion


Specialisation Diversification


Private /Public partnership



Promotion of Denomination of Origin certification


Number of projects 961 545 (36%)

(Millions Dirhams)

75 (52%) 20 (13%) 50 (35%)
Number of beneficiaries 560000 840000 (60%)


Results and discussions

The strategy to increase the incomes generated by the argane oil is based on the development of local cooperatives that employ women to shell and crash nuts. Supported by many NGO’s, it is seen as a success story for fair trade and gender equity policies. The present objectives are to improve the competitiveness and management of these cooperatives. The Geographical Protected Indication certification of argane oil is also promoted as a lever to develop their incomes. But these objectives seem to be structurally disconnected of the realty of the sector. More and more private traders buy nuts directly to the tree owners and sell them at the industry processing oil outside the area. Consequently, the cooperatives cannot compete with this industry and most of the added value is in the hands of the cosmetic industry, the GPI being not organized enough to prevent it. Regarding goats, the traditional system is considered as not efficient. The objective of the project for developing kid meat is to develop a breeders’ association of professional goat farms based on enclosure, feeding by forage crops and argane sub-products, genetic improvement of the local goat breed for intensification, and building a slaughter house for marketing meat. The real number of beneficiaries has been estimated to be less than 200 breeders considered as aggregators and has ignored initially the local existing groups based on the traditional system (around 11000 breeders, the potential number of beneficiaries). Consequently the textual analysis of the programs shows clearly that technological visions are dominant in the local projects. The local actors are seen as “ignorant by nature and would need to be trained[4] and local know-how are systematically downgraded. They give generally global objectives and this bounding vision considers little local specificities. Land use conflicts are often quoted as a key issue but the projects do not consider customary laws which in the past gave a balance of complementary land uses in the several territories. The objectives of the projects are rather more little documented incantations than business planned investments. When such a documentation exists, it is generally poorly mobilized what indicates clearly a top down vision of development, with many locks in effects on innovation and participation is pushed more to justify the actions planned than really re orientate it. Besides, this approach leads to see the argane tree area as a homogeneous space. The application of general policies at a local level ignores largely the effect of globalization on the local dynamics to regulate them. Such results have consequences on land uses with the generalization of global trends toward more specialization and fragmentation of the use of territories. In the Argane tree area, in the more structured and populated districts, the will to settle specialized and “modern” goat farmers has been identified at the side of argane forests without livestock eliminating de facto the traditional systems rather than improving it (Dubeuf et al., 2014). And other parts of the Argane tree area would be abandoned and dedicated to an uncontrolled wild collection of argane nuts. These conclusions agree with other previous analysis on the Green Morocco Plan (Akesby, 2011), that have shown than the real priority in Morocco is more in favor of “competitive” agriculture than in favor of hinterlands.


Such results have confirmed the permanence of the paradigm of progress for which any technological innovation would lead to human and social benefits and development. But the consequence of this vision is the generalization of specialization and intensification in more favored areas and the abandonment and degradation of more isolated ones. Mapping the effects of the observed dynamics according to the characterized development policies and their implementation by using geomatic methods would help the several stake holders in making decision for local development. With similar approaches, these results could be probably generalized to most of the Mediterranean hinterlands.


Research implemented with the financial support of the National French Research Agency project MED-INN-LOCAL 2013-2017 / ANR-12-TMED-0001.


ANZOA, 2013. Proceedings of the 2nd International Congress on Argane tree ; 404 pp. Agadir, 12/11-13/2013.

Akesbi, N.,2011. Le Plan Maroc Vert : une analyse critique, Question d’économie marocaine, Rabat (Morocco).

C.G.D.A., 2009. Pilier II du Plan Maroc Vert; de la stratégie à l’action; Ministère de l’Agriculture et de la pêche maritime

Dubeuf, J-P., Linck, Th., Chatibi, S. (Accepted). Public interventions regarding pastoral activities in the Argane tree area in Morocco: continuities and changes. in « Livestock Policies and Ecological intensification[5] » ; Laura Duarte et Pierre  Valarié, (Coord.)

Dubeuf, J.-P., Miller, B. M., 2014. Knowledge harvest report in Morocco : “Goat kid meat from the argan forest project, south west Morocco”. In: Jean-Paul Dubeuf, dir., Scaling up successful practices on sustainable pro–poor small ruminant development (p. 79-91). Little Rock, USA : International Goat Association.

Dubeuf, J.-P., Araba , A., Casabianca, F., Chatibi, S., Sorba, J., Linck, T., Lacombe, N. , 2014. Dissociative representations of goats by different actors of the argane forest area: lessons for the organization of a territorial development based on the complementarities of various activities, Options Méditerranéennes, Séries A, n°108, 383-396.

Muller, P. ; 1990. Les politiques publiques. Paris : PUF, collection Que sais –je ? 127p.

Terrier MR, Benzyane M. ; 2003.L’arganeraie marocaine se meurt : problématique et bioindication.Sécheresse 2003 ; 14 : 60-2. http://www.secheresse.info/article.php3?id_article=228

[1] Because of the development of industry ,irrigated orchards and green houses or infrastructures like airports and roads

[2]Tthe more frequently quoted causes being more frequent droughts, overgrazing  (by non local transhumant uncontrolled herds) and overexploitation of the trees for wood and fruits.

[3] Millenium Developpment Goals  until 2015,  now Sustainable Development Goals

[4] Often reported during interviews and collective discussions