Argan trees are so much more than just trees in rural Morocco. In many cases they are the only income for local indigenous women. Argan nuts are being turned into Argan oil that is being praised by cosmetic industry for its anti-aging and conditioning properties for skin and hair. Since the beauty-cult started some 20 years ago, over 200 women's Argan oil cooperatives have been organized for collecting nuts and turning them in to "desert gold" and sold worldwide.
However, most of them lack cash for expanding their businesses beyond just simple collecting nuts as conservative funding is not easily assessable for local cooperatives and farmers. Many villages throughout the Argan forest area lack the proper funding needed to open production facilities. Facilities like the women's Argan oil cooperatives have shown to be extremely beneficial to the development of local communities, providing women with paid employment for the first time in history. Without investments to produce their own oil and to sell it directly on-site to tourists, argan oil is often sold in Morocco at volumes 8-10 lower than in Europe. Without investing in the production and distribution process, Argan cooperatives are just getting a small fracture of the product value. And harvesting the trees can only be profitable if they are preserved – which is often problematic due to goats climbing the trees and hurting their health. New trees need to be planted, and existing ones preserved.
Apart from the economic value, Argan trees play a huge role in the natural ecosystem. With their incredibly deep roots (down to 35 meters!) they are stopping/slowing desertification by preserving soil. Argan Biosphere Reserve extends over 2.5 million hectares in the semi-desert of south-western Morocco. In a way, they are similar to the mangrove trees that are preventing floods in the area they grow in. Practically all the world`s Argan oil resources are coming from this part of Morocco, as the trees are extremely hard to transplant to other areas of the world. This makes it even more important to protect, as it is one of the oldest trees in the world having survived the tertiary era.
So, how can crowdfunding help in bringing the necessary funds to Argan oil cooperatives and make their business more sustainable - enabling them to plant new trees, buy oil processing machines and develop direct selling points? We hope to have first proofs soon – as through UNDP project "A Circular Economy Approach in the Souss-Massa Region of Morocco" we will connect the first cohort of women's Argan cooperatives to organizations already present in this field; such as Argan Care, which has been working on planting, rehabilitation, women's Argan oil cooperatives helping them with new equipment, facilities, general organizational skills and even literacy programs for the employees.
First, the KIVA crowdlending platform. KIVA has already done amazing things – such as brought over $ 1 billion to over 1,6 million lenders worldwide – elevating them from poverty by providing them small loans for micro and small businesses, usually invisible to large traditional financial institutions. And good thing with bringing KIVA onboard is – there are no specific needs for crowdfunding loans within the country – as financing is provided from abroad and distributed through local partners (microcredit institutions or banks). Second, while crowdfunding legislation is under development in Morocco, first local crowdfunding platform Cotizi is already operating – currently only enabled for donations which is limited in size and possibilities (to understand different business models for crowdfunding check our Guidebook for crowdfunding). Third, besides Cotizi and KIVA, we also connected the Bettervest platform for investments in green energy which already supported over 60 projects worldwide – allowing citizens to invest as little as 50 EUR in for example solar power plant in Benin, for example. We explored crowdfunding options not only for Argan coops but also for beekeepers, rural hotels and sustainable tourism (you can see here which options have we recognized). We decided to focus on having the first successful crowdfunding projects with our partners in 2018. After first cohort of Argan cooperatives gets experienced with crowdfunding – we are scaling it up and opening it for everybody.
Last year on the margin of the UN climate summit in Marrakesh, idea on payments for ecosystem services were presented as a nature driven solution to "softly adapt" to changing climate conditions pointing out to the necessity of providing cash for nature, to keep Argan oil flowing in Morocco's hills. Mentioned project aims to set up a new eco-label certifying that value chains for local agro-biodiversity products are biodiversity-friendly and sustainable in terms of underlying ecosystem services with a focus on Argan oil, honey, aromatic and medicinal plants, almonds and tourism. We would like to connect it to crowdfunding – for both funding and visibility. How can we support it with UNDP Global Crowdfunding Academy? Stay tuned!
Robert Pasicko, UNDP Alternative Finance Lab
Marina Petrovic, UNDP Alternative Finance Lab
Benedicte Westre Skog, Argan Care Foundation
Moha Haddouch, UNDP Morocco