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Résumé/Sommaire :

Cooperatives, as both a strategy and an organizational form, often enable underprivileged individuals to collectively compete in a market through joint-ownership agreements and democratic decision-making. While cooperatives are promoted as social enterprises for their labour-centric emphasis, we also know that many fail due to a variety of factors including a lack of accountability, low wages, and difficulty competing in high-end markets. This paper assesses the model employed by argan oil cooperatives in southwest Morocco. Female-based cooperatives have been supported by donor organizations and development practitioners to promote environmental conservation of argan forests, foster social equity in the patriarchal society, and improve the local economy.
The study reveals that through donor funding and the development of associations to commercialize cooperative products, the cooperative model in Morocco has been largely successful. The rapid growth the cooperative movement has been able to achieve in the argan oil sector has stimulated social, economic, and environmental development. However, the findings suggest that these successes have resulted from cooperatives failing to meet basic tenets of cooperative organizations. This outcome can be attributed to the initial set of stakeholder priorities and local contexts. Due to the mixed results, one of the questions raised in this paper is whether the cooperative model should be viewed as a success or failure.
Although defending the argan oil cooperative model as a successful development strategy, the author proposes a new model that incorporates Internet-based strategies to further the cooperative movement. Established as an action research engagement, The Argan Tree is an argan oil cooperative that espouses value chain transparency and accountability through e-commerce. This innovative model has the potential to overcome setbacks that plague many cooperative models including: inequitable profit distribution to members, a lack of member awareness and participation in decisionmaking processes, and excessive profit margins captured by retailers. A pilot study conducted in 2010 suggests that Internet-based strategies can shift the development paradigm of cooperatives.

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