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The argan tree is one of the rarest plants on earth. STOCKOSORB® from Evonik could help it survive.
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The argan tree (Argania spinosa), which is also known as as a tree of life, is endemic to south-west Morocco, where it covers an area of approximately 800,000 hectares. It is a source of valuable substances for the local inhabitants. The wood is very hard and is used as fuel and as building material. Sheep and goats feed off the shoots and young leaves. And finally, the kernels of the fruit contain a highly valuable oil that is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E compounds. Traditionally, the Berbers have used it for cooking and cosmetic purposes. And even the molasses remaining after extracting the oil can be used as fodder. The argan tree is also ecologically important: It withstands high temperatures, needs little water, and flourishes in extreme climatic conditions. Argan trees grow in areas that would otherwise be desert. Nevertheless, the area covered by these trees has dramatically decreased over the past century for many reasons including land clearing, overgrazing and modern farming methods. Efforts are now being made to preserve the ecosystem. In 1998 UNESCO designated this ecosystem as a biosphere reserve. There are also many initiatives to improve the income of local inhabitants by promoting argan products commercially. The Moroccan government is endeavoring to reforest the area. One of the main constraints is the sensitivity of argan seedlings to drought. It takes a lot of effort to cultivate them in nurseries and many die shortly after being planted out in the forest. That is where STOCKOSORB® from Evonik can help. “This granulate is what is known as a superabsorbent. It can absorb and store many times its mass in water, enabling it to improve the water storage ability of poor soil,” explains Annette zur Mühlen of Evonik, who specializes in innovative solutions for agriculture. If the soil dries out, STOCKOSORB® gradually releases the water and prevents the plants from drying out. Its benefits are used by farmers, horticulturists and the forestry industry around the world to grow vegetables, ornamental plants and trees. Trials carried out by the Institut Agronomique et Veterinaire Hassan II of Agadir (Morocco), a multi-disciplinary center for sustainable development, in collaboration with Evonik and local partners show that young argan trees can also benefit from STOCKOSORB®. “STOCKOSORB® greatly increases the survival rate of argan seedlings,” says Professor Cherif Harrouni of this institute. Prof. Harrouni and his team planted out over a thousand argan saplings at four different locations in the area around Agadir in spring 2010. Prior to planting, the soil was mixed with prehydrated STOCKOSORB®. The saplings were then divided into two groups. One was irrigated with 30 liters of water a month, while the other was not irrigated at all. Controls were also planted for both groups. The scientists found that the saplings planted in soil mixed with STOCKOSORB® presented a survival rate significantly higher than that of the control plants. Depending on the location, using Evonik‘s product increased survival rates by 40 to 150 percent. The young trees did best with a combination of STOCKOSORB® and irrigation. “The results are very encouraging,” says Professor Harrouni. However, further trials are needed before his research can be applied on a large scale. Preparations for these are currently under way and will include investigating the effect of STOCKOSORB® and argan trees in preventing soil erosion. So what about the trees planted in the first set of trials? “The argan seedlings treated with STOCKOSORB® are regularly monitored and show good growth,” says Professor Harrouni. The trees are just over a year old now and in two years they will start bearing fruit.
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