Moroccan women fight inequality with cacti

Moroccan women fight inequality with cacti
Feature: Moroccan women are beginning to unlock the secrets of nature in the plants and herbs around their villages. Through these businesses, they are selling their products across the world and changing their role in society.
4 min read
14 March, 2015
Through products such as argan oil, the role of Moroccan women is changing [Moment Mobile]
When women took to the streets in Rabat, the Moroccan capital city, on International Women's Day, agriculture expert Abdullah al-Baamrani remembered the women from the marginalised region of the kingdom.
In Ait Baamrane, illiterate and often poverty-stricken women now make more money than they could ever imagine by selling cacti.

Wealth in cacti

The plant is sold across the country, to Moroccans and foreigners, giving the women huge fame across the country for their product, and instilling in them a new sense of pride.
The idea for the project came from Kulthum, an Ait Baamerane local, who realised that nothing grows in this barren region but cacti. Most consider the plant too disgusting to be eaten, so almost all cacti is used to feed cattle.
Kulthum, however, discovered another advantage to a plant that grows abundantly in the region, 130 km away from the coastal city of Agadir.

The plant that was once used as fodder can be distilled and its fragrant oil sold for up to $1,000 per litre. Cactus jam is also growing in demand.
The project has completely transformed the lives of these women in this rural backwater. Once poverty stricken and confined to their villages, these women now attend exhibitions across the world.

It has inspired women in other areas of Morocco to do the same. Many have started to look at the things that grown in abundance in their locale and turn them into something highly profitablel.

Hassan al-Sheikh speaks about the time he met the women of Taza, between the Rif and Middle Atlas mountains, at an exhibition. Despite their doubts about how successful their rabbit breeding endeavour might be, they were immensely proud of it.

Men from the town managed to expand the project, and provided butchers with rabbit meat. The women were hoping to take it to the next level, and make the rabbit meat in demand across Morocco and further afield.

Changing roles
According to the ministry of employment and social affairs, Moroccan women make up only 25 percent of the country’s formal labour force.

It forces many women into lives of subjugation and poverty, engendered by traditional roles. Now, in some of the most destitute parts of the country, these women-led projects are changing their position in society.
     Moroccan women make up only 25 percent of the country’s formal labour force.
This is what happened in a village close to Essaouira, a Moroccan city popular with tourists.

Abdelkader Ait Hamo, a farmer, was surprised to find out that local women had unlocked the medical and cosmetic benefits of herbs growing in the mountains that surround their village.

The women began to extract fragrances from the herbs they found, but were initially unsuccessful. After they passed through a training programme organised by the ministry of agriculture, they began to learn about chemistry and distillation techniques that allowed them to extract the oils.

The future of women
In Taliouine, south Morocco, locals are proud of the saffron they produce. They believe it is of better quality than the Iranian variety, and all Moroccans seem to agree, constantly hunting down saffron from this region.
"When the saffron harvest season starts, women flock to the fields before dawn. They carefully pick at the saffron stigmas. This process needs a lot of patience, which only women possess," Khaled Rai, said, a waiter at a Casablanca cafe
"City people do not know how much these women suffer to provide them with this red gold."
Daily life has changed dramatically for these women from rural parts of Morocco.
Naguib Miko took us on a tour of a cooperative store run by his Morocco Marketing company. In the building were products prized around the world for their quality - apple vinegar, olive oil, honey, Argan oil and natural cosmetics - and largely the work of local women.
"Most of these products were made by village women who work hard to secure livelihoods for their families," Miko said.
This includes the women of Azrou, close to Fez, whose faces were proud and deep in thought as they worked on distilling herbs into fragrances.

In just a matter of years, their role has shifted from being house makers to bread winners.

They know that the future for girls in the village has transformed for ever, and their lives won't be confined to the walls of their homes. Instead, through this enterprise, they can take Azrou to the world.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.