Sharjah24 - AFP: The cosmetics industry holds Moroccan argan oil in utmost respect, but the fact that it is currently produced primarily by older people raises concerns about how long the artisanal process can last.
A dozen women, sitting on the floor of a workshop inland from Essaouira, a port town on Morocco's Atlantic coast, work to deftly shell argan nuts, crush them and extract the oil.
It is a time-honoured and labour-intensive craft, but one increasingly shunned by young people in the North African kingdom.
The women, mostly aged over 60, manually pulp the small yellow fruits at Cooperative Marjana, while others use hammers to crush the robust shells and remove the nuts.
The fruits are then sorted, roasted, ground and pressed for their oil, which is used in cooking but has also long been famed for its moisturising and anti-ageing properties for skin and hair.
"It's difficult work and it requires experience and, most of all, patience," said Samira Chari, who at 42 is Marjana's youngest artisanal worker.
Cooperative founder Amel El Hantatti says the job's physical nature is one reason "young people aren't taking up this craft anymore", despite a lack of local employment.
The area's otherwise arid landscape is home to vast argan orchards. Tourists stopping to see the production process and buy argan products are warmly welcomed by Marjana's all-female staff.
Argan is so important to the region between the towns of Essaouira and Agadir that in 1998 UNESCO declared a biosphere reserve in the area and later added the tree's cultivation to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Argan oil is the main source of revenue in this part of southern Morocco, where few other crops survive the low rainfall and searing summer heat.
It is also widely used in Moroccan cuisine and has been certified with an Appellation of Origin since 2010.
Hantatti founded the cooperative in 2005 and says it now employs 80 women, some working in production and others in sales.
But today, she says, "I really fear that the artisanal production of argan oil might disappear".