Gum Arabic cultivation in Sudan and Why did the US Exempt It from Sanctions
Al Obeid – Sudan for a very long time has been classified as the largest producer and exporter of Gum Arabic in the world.
The country produces about 75 to 80 percent of world consumption, with the North Kordofan State being the largest producer amongst all other states by contributing about 75 percent of the production.
Gum arabic is the most important cash crop in Sudan and this is why producers in North Kordofan - famous for producing the crop- call it the "super" crop. It is obtained from accasia senegal and accasia seyal trees.
Gum arabic which is extracted from accasia senegal in Sudan, particularly that is cultivated in the poor savanna region of Kordofan and Darfur states is a basic component of the soft drink Coca-Cola.
Producers in these regions wait impatiently for the day when the famous crop turns into a hard sap and eventually into an income that spare the region of poverty.
Hen cutting a trunk of acacia senegal or acacia seyal that is cultivated in the savanna region, particularly in the Blue Nile, South Kordofan and South Darfur states, hardened saps are formed which is known as Gum arabic.
According to the National Corporation for Forestry's data, the Gum arabic belt covers about one fifth of the area of Sudan and is found in 11 states of the country.
A large number of the citizens of these regions work in the production of gum arabic since the income they get from it is a bigger reward that that they get from traditional agriculture.
In addition to the crop itself, cultivators use the tree trunks as char coal for cooking their food and for using them for other purposes, such as in building their houses and in making home furniture. Another benefit of Gum arabic tree is that if prevents desertification.
Sudan knew the production of gum arabic since 6000 years back. No wonder, the tree contributes to about 15 percent of the country's national income.
North Kordofan and North Darfur states are the largest producers of gum arabic in Sudan, followed by Blue Nile, White Nile and Gedarif states
U.S Economic Sanctions and Gum Arabic
Due to the importance of gum arabic in many industries, U.S's sanctions imposed on Sudan in 2000 have excluded the import of gum arabic.
In its report on the proposed sanctions, the US Congress warned that including gum arabic in the US sanctions will have serious effects on U.S's food industry.
However, despite international interests in the crop, many cultivators and producers are not very optimistic that the day will come when they will benefit from crop's returns, according to the secretary-general of Sudanese Union of Gum arabic Producers, Abdel Majeed Ghadeer.
"We consider Gum arabic a Divine gift; it is Heaven's bread gift to us," he said
He expressed his sorrow that "cultivators consider it as extremely marginal activity".
However, many sad stories and tales about Gum arabic are told from the time seeds are put into the soil up to the time when harvesting season comes, known as tak al samuk i.e. cutting the trees trunk so that hardened saps that are gum arabic are formed.
Some cultivators have spoken with great sadness about how nature and environment have united to reduce productivity, forcing them to give up the profession altogether.
For his part, Fardhi Hamatou Abdullah, a Gum arabic trader said gum Arabic used to be available in large quantities in El Obeid crops market, but following the entry of Gum Arabic Company, cultivators left the profession since they considered it as not rewarding.
According to Abdullah, GAC has been behind the deterioration of productivity and eventually the cultivators leaving.
In an interview with Sudan Vision, Abdullah said some cultivators were so frustrated that they started to remove the plants from their roots and grow instead other trees.
As regards the most important places where Gum arabic trees are found, Abdullah said Gum arabic trees are grown at remote regions along interstate highways, the most important of which being Dar Hamad, Al Bedeiriah region and West Al Nehood.
About the volume of production in these areas, Abdullah said all these areas collectively produce more than 700 kantars of Gum arabic per year. He added that in the seasons of the years from 1982 to 1995, acacia senegal production was good.
While interviewing some Gum arabic cultivators, a 70-years old cultivator came hastily towards us. After saluting us, he began to complain by saying that he was a cultivator from Al Shehab and that he and his colleagues had been treated unfairly by the government. He said the gum Arabic trees had been affected by pests, particularly locust and by goats which caused great damage to accasia senegal trees.
Abdullah added that it occurred to them that in order to prove that Sudan has the best climate for growing accasia senegal, some merchants took seeds and cultivated them in some neighboring countries but the climatic conditions were different and hence the tree would not grow.
"Sudan is the best place where to grow accasia senegal and Kordofan State is on the top of these places," one of the men said.
On the decline of accasia senegal and accasia seyal growing in the western states of the country, a producers who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the present refinery of El Obeid has been constructed on the "ruin" of thousands of accasia senegal trees and things looks as if the "oil curse" has hit the trees fatally.
But, Abdullah commented that there are some other reasons that contributed to the "ruin" of the trees, among these being Gum Arabic Company's policies which caused many cultivators to lose their jobs. H said the company's successive directors are directly responsible for what has happened to the tree. He added that the state health ministry also shares the blame.
Responsibilities of Gum arabic Companies:
Many agree with Abdullah in blaming Gum arabic companies, particularly the Sudanese Gum Arabic Company, and their successive managements for the destruction of Gum arabic crop and for causing farmers and Gum arabic traders give up the profession.
Gum arabic traders believe the period 1952-1995 was the last golden age of the production and marketing of Gum arabic in Sudan. They say the continuation of the state of affairs as the situation is now would mean that accasia senegal would disappear within the next twenty years or less than that.
For 14 years, El Amein has been extracting Gum arabic in North Kordofan. But El Amein who is 40 does not make much of an earning from his trade. He even thinks of giving up the profession, cutting his trees and selling them in the form of firewood, thus contributing reluctantly to the desertification of central Sudan.
In a cry for help, Gum arabic cultivators asked Sudan Vision to convey their message to governmental bodies and to officials to interfere quickly for saving the crop from injustice on the part of man and animal.
On the reasons of the deterioration of Gum arabic production, the minister of agriculture at North Kordofan State, Gen. Mohammed Bashir Suleiman said there are three reasons for this deterioration. Firstly, the monopoly by Gum arabic companies , secondly weakness of marketing on the part of cultivators and thirdly the lack of capabilities on the part of producers due to lack of modern technology.
According to Gen. Suleiman these reasons collectively have pressured cultivators to abandon Gum arabic and this is why productivity is so low, particularly at production areas that are located at desert and semi desert belt where water is scarce and troubles abundant.
The minister, however, agrees with farmers that Gum arabic companies are responsible for the deterioration of productivity but he looks optimistic that the crop marketing is now recovering from its illness and Gum arabic will soon play its role in the Sudanese economy.
However, he said the solution depends on the final removal of monopoly and in the same time the exclusion of mediators and the introduction of policies that are conducive to more productivity and better return for producers.
"Capability building, legal reforms are a must for Gum arabic revival," he said.
The minister added that a state strategy and a 20 percent increase of the area of cultivation are being adopted for increasing productivity.
So, with the government acknowledging that major problems do exist, namely greedy traders and piracy on the part of some Gum arabic traders, will government's attempts to put an end to this dilemma involving greedy men on the one hand and simple cultivators who look for a better life on the other succeed?
By Mohammed Ali Fazari, 09/01/2012