Student Blog:Moroccan Oil

hineFor 12 days this summer I was in Morocco in a rural village at the foothills of the Atlas mountains interviewing local people, watching goats climb trees and eating way too much couscous.  Thanks to the generosity of the Brasenose College Michael Woods Travel Grant I was able to travel around southwestern Morocco and undertake field research for my third year dissertation.

My dissertation research focused on analysing the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the recent commercialisation of Argan oil on a local community and its Argan forest.  Argan oil is a local culinary and cosmetic oil produced by women who traditionally collect, peel and grind the nuts from Argan trees.  The boom is claimed to sustainably develop communities, improve the social status of rural women and conserve the Argan forest.

After hours of reading and planning my research, and even more hours reassuring my worried parents, in September I was excited to finally arrive in Morocco.  I was met by a Moroccan professor and university student who had agreed to help with my research in a town called Taroudant.  I stayed in a guesthouse in Taroudant for the duration of my time in Morocco, a rural Berber town in the Souss valley, with a backdrop of the Atlas Mountains and a busy ancient town enclosed by 16th century fortifications.  I quickly became familiar with the 5am calls to prayer from the local Mosques, the chaotic main squares or assarags, and the best mint tea cafes.  However, getting lost in the endless winding market streets of the souk were a daily occurrence, and ritual goat slaughters still remained a culture shock.   

Each day accompanied by Hosni, the university student and my translator, I travelled from Taroudant to a small village in the Argan forest called Tiout to perform my research.  We conducted interviews with local people, the authorities and forestry association, and collected data on the health and desertification risk of the surrounding Argan forest.  I enjoyed working to unravel the complexities of the Argan oil industry’s impact on Tiout and interacting with members of the local community.  The cultural differences I experienced were even more remarkable than I originally expected, but gaining an understanding of the Arab culture and insight into Berber livelihoods was fascinating.  The hospitality and generosity of the Tiout community was particularly striking.  I was readily invited in for delicious clay pots of tagine and couscous, or tea with homemade bread and Argan butter. 

In addition to my time in Tiout, I was lucky enough to spend a few days trekking to other villages higher in the Atlas mountains, and took a short break to Marrakech.  On arrival back in Oxford, I am now able to reflect on my incredible experience and the hopefully valuable research collected, not to mention how happy I was with my tan. Now for the easy part, the dissertation write up…

By Fran Hine (Third Year Geography)

Read more about Geography at Brasenose

Read the Prospectus

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter for news from students and tutors, Schools Liaison and other interesting things