Today Majid and I meet my friend Afafe, an argan oil distributor who cares deeply about the women of the region. She is a young, educated Berber who has made a successful career for herself in the past few years.
Afafe is taking me to visit a cooperative an hour outside of Agadir in a tiny village called Mneezla with which she has done business in the past and which is now in need of help. The women of this cooperative, like many others in the region, took advantage of government funding to start their cooperative and were poised to create a successful business. With an initial $18,000 in seed money, the group of 240 women were able to construct a workplace and buy modern filtration equipment, an extraction machine, and packaging materials with which to ship and also sell their oil in a small retail shop in the front of the coop building. Almost $4,000 of the money was allocated for organic certification, which was to be provided by Ecocert.
In 2007, they completed the necessary Ecocert forms– a virtually impossible task for these illiterate women if not for the voluntary help of the kindly local “prefecture.” The forms were submitted to the bureaucracy only to be refused on a technicality. Even though the oil is without question 100% organic, without organic certification the cooperative finds that there is no market for it. Since 2007 not a drop of oil has been sold. The coop building will remain empty until they obtain certification and can distribute their argan oil. After two years and with the help of Afafe and the prefecture, a portion of the money they spent on Ecocert is being credited to their future certification, but they still need capital in the amount of $8,000 to pay for the rest of the certification and to pay farmers for the raw seeds to restart their business. Despite all of these setbacks, the women gather at the cooperative to meet me in the hopes of impressing me with their situation. Impressed I am, by their diligence and their strong will to see their entrepreneurial dreams come true. This is just the kind of program I am seeking to assist, in which women with the desire and the means just need a boost to get going. I am now working with Afafe to develop a plan to help them.