All-female Cooperative Transforms Olive Oil Into Hope

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.

Jan. 30, 2019
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas

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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.- Fatima Lehbouss, pres­i­dent of Femmes Du Rif

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 Also: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.

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