"U.S. Imports 70 percent of Africa Gum Arabic Production", Interview
Gum Arabic commodity is one of the most important Sudanese export items. Trading in the commodity has flourished since early twentieth century.
The Gum Arabic trees belt provides means of living and stability for citizens living in Kordofan, Darfur, central, east and west of Sudan.
In addition to its commercial value, Gum Arabic belt help in keeping sands in place and prevent desertification.
Gum Arabic is used in food and pharmaceutical industries and due to the importance of Gum Arabic locally and internationally, President of the Republic has directed Gum Arabic Council (GAC) during the international Gum Arabic conference held recently in Khartoum to implement the forum's recommendations, including enhancing producers' capabilities and improving specifications for meeting increasing international market demand on this important commodity.
In fact, demand on Gum Arabic is expected to rise dramatically this year due to recent discoveries worldwide of the importance of the commodity as a vital component of food, pharmaceutical and industrial products.
To know more about this vital commodity and shed light on its uses and benefits, SV has interviewed the Secretary-General of Gum Arabic Council Dr. Abdel Magid Abdelgadir as follows:
Q: Have you started the implementation of Gum Arabic International Forum's recommendations?
A: Yes. We have started the implementation of these recommendations according to the directives of the President of the Republic. As a matter of fact, we shall organize a workshop on the 27th of this month for training trainers which will take place simultaneously at Sennar, Gedarif, Um Rowaba, Al Nihoud Dalang, Niyala and El Fashir. These seven proposed locations will provide Five-day training for more than 250 trainees, including training on methods of production and preparation of Gum Arabic.
Q: We know now that GAC have started procedures for linking 5 Gum Arabic markets with international markets. What are the developments?
A: By these procedures we aim at enhancing capabilities and developing 5 markets at the various states according to arrangements that are being made between GAC and Khartoum Security Market.
Q: Why should Sudan export Gum Arabic to U.S. although the U.S. imposes one-sided sanctions on Sudan? Why has Gum Arabic been excluded from this sanction?
A: As a matter of fact, U.S. imports 70 percent of Gum Arabic produced in Africa and this takes place either directly from producers or indirectly through trading go-betweens in Western Europe, particularly France, Germany and UK.
However, the U.S. market is the most important market for Gum Arabic, particularly when we know that Gum Arabic is used in soft drink industry by such companies as Pepsi Cola and other U.S. important products. This is why when the U.S. imposed its sanction on Sudan, it excluded Gum Arabic. We can say now that Sudan holds an important political card.
As a matter of fact, the Sudanese government is not happy with such exclusion since the reaction has been that the commodity is now being smuggled to neighboring countries such as Chad and Central Africa on our western borders, Kenya and Ethiopia in the east and Egypt in the north.
Q: Can you tell us more about the monopoly issue that was being implemented in the past. Was such policy detrimental or beneficial to the country?
A: Monopoly definitely harm the commodity since it means closing the market on the face of would-be importers thus preventing free competition which has led to lost markets and lower revenue. This situation has prevented the country to develop this vital foreign currency earner.
Eventually, the government has issued a decision calling for the removal of Gum Arabic monopoly though the decision stressed the importance of the continuation of concessions for checking speculations, the protection of producers through fixed purchasing price and securing strategic reserve with gradual removal of monopoly.
Q: What do you say about calls for substituting Gum Arabic?
A: Gum Arabic international uses can be divided into two categories: firstly, those which basically need Gum Arabic for which there is no alternative and demand is not flexible. Examples of these are soft drinks of all types, food stuff and some arms and ammunitions industries. Secondly, we have the other category for which alternative can be made available, such as sweat, printing and cotton textile industries.
Q: Can Gum Arabic sector contribute now to the national economy, and possibly become one of petroleum alternatives?
A: When people speak about Gum Arabic, immediately comes to our minds that crystal-looking golden hardened sap.
As a matter of fact, Gum Arabic is an important product for in addition to other types of gum produced by Acacia Senegal and the Acacia Seyal trees.
Sudan is rich in about 30 types of thorn trees which produce gum forming what is known as gum Arabic belt that covers 10 states in an area of about half a million square kilometers. The area extends from the Ethiopian borders in the east to the Chadian borders in the west.
The belt is the home of 13 million citizens, with five million of them being engaged in direct activity of exploiting Gum Arabic trees. In addition, the belt accommodates more than two-third of animal resource in Sudan where all important crops are produced in addition to all the country's agricultural exports, such sorghum, sesame, water melon seeds.
Q: Did the Darfur conflict adversely affect Gum Arabic sector?
A: No; the Darfur conflict did not have direct effect and the only effects were the problems on the borders which contributed to smuggling of the commodity.
Q: What are the problems which the commodity's marketing sector is facing?
A: Gum Arabic represents 15-20 percent of total export of Sudan but local marketing is not a common an activity amongst Sudanese. In addition, the importance and uses of Gum Arabic were not known to Sudanese and the commodity was used at khalwas (Quranic schools) where the substance was mixed with liquid writing ink as a fixing medium. The consumption then did not exceed 500 tons per year but in the last two years following extensive efforts by local manufacturing companies, Gum Arabic is now being used in different forms and industries locally, such as in soft drinks and sweats, something that led to a rise in consumption to 7,000 tons.
Q: What do forestry and Gum Arabic sector have in common?
A: The Gum Arabic belt provides all the needs of country of wood charcoal, burning and construction wood. According to the estimates of Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) two years ago, Sudan supplies from Gum Arabic belt, including forests products, amounts to about US$ 2,500,000,000 every year. This is why Gum Arabic belts, trees and products has formed and will continue to form an alternative for imported energy. And again, this why I can say the relationship with forestry is an integrated one.
Q: What are the most important international events in which GAC have participated?
A: GAC have organized the International Gum Arabic Forum held in Khartoum in October this year in which leading importing companies, research centers and international specialists have participated who represented about 12 countries.
We have promoted the event internally and externally and made the necessary coordination with all concerned parties.
In addition, we made an international announcement in which we advised all those concerned that Sudan is prepared to supply the commodity according to the required international specifications.
Moreover, we have participated at international exhibitions in conjunction with the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC). In addition, we have recently launched procedures for opening Gum Arabic centers in PRC.
Q: What solution do you have for combating illegal Gum Arabic tree logging?
A: We have launched our campaign to combat illegal Gum Arabic tree logging by executing a program aimed at distributing one million cooking gas cylinders in producing states. In fact, we have actually started the project by distributing 10,000 cooking gas cylinders to producers at Gum Arabic belt and we expect that the belt will be covered, within 3 years.
By Shadia Basheri, 16/11/2011