Africa / Middle East
The Femmes du Rif is a female-run cooperative in Morocco that focuses on sustainable olive oil production. They hope to reverse the fortunes of an otherwise declining rural region.
The transformation of agriculture into a source of household revenue is one of the objectives that drives Femmes Du Rif.
The collective of 10 all-female cooperatives in Morocco focuses on agroforestry and olive oil as an option to diversify agricultural production, empower women and reduce rural migration as well as cannabis cultivation.
We eat olives, we sell them. We export them abroad. The olive is our main product.
Located in the northernmost part of Morocco, the Rif valley is a tribal land with a diversity of cultures and steady traditions that is defined by its topography of mountains and very remote villages. These conditions, together with its poor soils, make agriculture very difficult in the Rif.
To overcome these circumstances, FedOlive, best known as Femmes du Rif, was formed in 2001 to gather and sell their seasonal olive harvest. In 2006 they formally created a group of economic interest, which is now supervised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.See more: Olive Oil Production
More than 300 women from different ages and civil statuses now adhere to Femmes Du Rif. This collective effort has enabled them to generate economies of scale and produce oils of a much better quality thanks to technical and commercial support.
Moreover, it has offered an opportunity to foster rural development through female entrepreneurship, an opportunity to work and gain some independence.
Morocco’s government reported last December that the country had harvested two million tons of olives in 2018 which made it the world’s fourth largest olive producer. Generating 380,000 jobs, the olive sector in this Mediterranean country is a major source of employment, of which women make up 20 percent of workers in the field.
Since 2011 Femmes Du Rif has received funds from PUR Project, a French social enterprise that has complemented Morocco’s government assistance for olive tree cultivation, by providing the cooperatives with resources that help them accelerate the planting of new olive and fruit trees.
Most cooperatives are scattered in remote villages surrounding Ouezzane, a very poor region. Because of the resistance olive trees have, oliviculture and olive oil production represent the only alternative to illicit cannabis cultivation. The collective now owns approximately 30,000 olive trees and has access to a fully equipped olive mill.
Femmes Du Rif produces organic extra virgin olive oil with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI.) This PGI certifies the origin of the oil, thus enabling the group to sell it for a higher price and at more premium outlets, such as hotels and in international markets.
This collective strength has boosted the value of Femmes Du Rif’s olive oil, resulting in higher revenues that have provided greater economic stability to the women, their families, communities and the cooperative itself.
“We eat olives, we sell them. We export them abroad,” Fatima Lehbouss, a local producer and the president of Femmes Du Rif, said. “The olive is our main product.”
The positive impacts stemming from this newfound economic stability range from better education opportunities for their children to improved oil production infrastructure, progress on their social rights, a greater exposure to public life and even the advancement of some members to political positions at the regional and national levels.
It has also minimized the depopulation process and, more importantly, helped local farmers abandon the cultivation of illicit cannabis.
Climate change, with higher than average temperatures, represents a challenge to olive cultivation in Morocco even though olive trees are resistant to varying weather conditions.
In the Rif, the climate is more unstable than ever, a challenge Femmes Du Rif overcomes with the cultivation of olives in agroforestry systems, cultivating trees with annual crops to reduce soil erosion and water loss.