In southwestern Morocco, one could look bad by making statements like “goats don’t grow on trees«.
And it is that, wherever you look, you can find dozens of goats hanging lazily from the treetops, absentmindedly chewing like crows on weeds.
Goats are expert climbers and are known to climb rocky walls and steep mountains in search of food. Goats are also attracted to the fruit of the argan tree.which ripens in June of each year.
The argan grows up to 8-10 meters high and has a life of about 150-200 years. They are thorny and with twisted trunks, but the goats, which have been climbing these trees for centuries, have learned to adapt to the task.
The goats that climb the argan tree have hooves that provide them with balancewhile the soles of the feet are soft and flexible, which helps them hold onto the bark.
The animals also have two vestigial toes higher up on their legs, called dewclaws. These are found in many species, including cats and dogs, but Goat spurs are much firmer and help the creatures to chomp down branches or climb down steep cliffs.
Argan is endemic to the semi-desert Sous Valley of southwestern Morocco and the Algerian region of Tindouf in the western Mediterranean region. The fruit is also a valuable source of oil and an important source of the economy of the Berber population of Morocco..
The fruit, which is about 2-4 cm long, has a hard stone surrounded by a fleshy part that goats eat.. Inside the bone, there are one or two small oil-rich seeds. The fruit takes more than a year to ripen, doing so from June to July of the following year.
Traditionally, goats were a part of the oil production business. Local Berbers allowed goats to eat the fruit, as the hard bone would pass through the animal’s digestive system unharmed. Subsequently, when excreting the goat, it would be collected and ground to extract the oil, which was used in the preparation of salad and cosmetics.
The extraction of the soft pulp is the most laborious part of the oil extraction process, which is why goats were used. Modern methods, however, have bypassed this stage due to a strong odor that can sometimes be detected in the oil.
During the last two decades, argan oil has skyrocketed in popularity and price to become the most expensive oil in the world (around $300/litre). It is sold in Europe and North America, where it has become a fashionable product.
Ironically, the popularity of argan oil has threatened the survival of this tree. The extra money gained from selling the oil has allowed locals to buy more goats, resulting in more damage to the trees. Trees are also felled for their timber or to make way for other crops. It is estimated that from 1970-1980 about 600 hectares of argan forest are lost per year.