Cover Image
close this bookCERES No. 109 (FAO Ceres, 1986, 50 p.)
close this folderCerescope
View the documentClimatologists fear prolonged drought in Sahelian zone
View the documentMosquito control aided by tiny fish with big appetite
View the documentNew cropping system reveals promise for low-input farming
View the documentFrogs' usefulness cited in campaign to ban their export from India
View the documentLoss of markets feared for Sudan's gum arabic output
View the documentNew species, techniques help to rehabilitate African fishponds
View the documentLocal language use helping to spread new farming techniques
View the documentIntegrated approach adopted by Rwanda for fishery project

Loss of markets feared for Sudan's gum arabic output

For 2 000 years harvesting of gum arabic has been an essential part of subsistence agriculture in the Sudan. In good years the country's Acacia Senegal trees have provided 80 per cent of the world's requirements for gum arabic, which is used in textiles, plastics, and paint and serves as an emulsifying and adhesive agent in confectionery and drugs. It has provided cash income for farmers in lean years, and, more important, grown in rotation with other crops, it has helped to bind the soil and provide cover against the encroaching desert.

But, as in the case of other crops, years of drought in the region have taken their toll on the Acacia Senegal plantations. Gum output has fallen substantially, particularly in Kordofan province in the west of the country, which accounts for half of total national output. By the beginning of the present decade Kordofan's production of gum arabic had declined by one third from the long-time annual average of about 24 000 tons. Once the Sudan's second most valuable export commodity (after cotton), gum arabic has now slipped to fourth place. Even so, in 1983 it still earned $58 million, or more than 10 per cent of the Sudan's export revenues.

In addition to the immediate damage to the region's economy, however, the Sudan's gum arabic industry is faced with a more disturbing longer-term threat: the possibility that important export markets, weaned from gum arabic in periods of short supply, may turn to readily available synthetic substitutes. Since global demand for gum arabic is small (only about 50 000 tons a year}, the Sudan's share of the world market was assured until recently. However, synthetic substitutes made from starch and petrochemicals are making steady inroads into markets for natural gum arabic. To counter the possibility that the Sudan's customers might change more quickly to synthetics if supplies became restricted, the government-run Gum Arabic Company {GAC) drew upon its strategic reserve of 20 000 tons to help offset the immediate effects of the drought.

The Government has also recognized the environmental importance of Acacia Senegal and has initiated conservation measures. Within the 65 000 km2 area in Kordofan known as the gum belt, a major programme for restocking gum arabic plantations is under way. The Sudanese Government has been working since 1981 in collaboration with FAO, UNDP, and UNEP, the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO) on a project aimed at Planting 27 000 feddans of new gum trees. The Dutch Government has contributed $1.5 million to the scheme, which has more recently been extended another four years and expanded to include assistance from the World Food Programme. The present aim is to extend the gum belt further with two plantations, one of 11 350 hectares and the other of 34 660 hectares.

The Government's interest has been complemented by increased involvement in actual production by GAC, in theory a joint venture between state and private producers.

The cultivation of and trade in gum arabic was traditionally conducted by private merchants until 1969, when the Sudanese Government set up the GAC to market the commodity. GAC's role was first confined to Port Sudan, where it bought, cleaned, and exported gum transported to the quayside by producers. However, over the years the GAC became more involved in production, evolving research and extension programmes and supplying farmers with seeds and credit. As drought worsened in 1984, the company provided farmers with water tanks and money for digging wells. Now GAC wants to improve screening, sorting, and packaging facilities at Port Sudan in order to raise standards of Sudanese gum arabic on the world market. According to the International Trade Centre, higher standards could lead to price increases of 10 to 15 per cent in ordinary grades and 15 to 30 per cent in top grades. The ITC also noted gum arabic users' need for standardized and consistent raw material supplies as their production processes become increasingly automated.

Andrew Lycett