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West’s sweet tooth makes Sudan’s gum Arabic a rare export success story
Sudan earned $81.8 million from exporting 45,633 tonnes of gum arabic in 2011 with subsequent price and volume increases suggesting it might earn over $200 million this year.
January 6, 2013 8:10 by Reuters
“We traded 9,000 tonnes of gum arabic last year…Prices are on the rise,” said Hashem Umbada, head of a local agricultural bourse where gum arabic, beans and other products are auctioned.
In the nearby state capital El-Obeid, a Sudanese firm, one of many newcomers since the government ended a state monopoly on the business in 2009, is building a plant to refine and clean the gum arabic so it can fetch higher prices. Currently, women in a warehouse dust it off before it gets packed into sacks.
Gum arabic enriches a range of people on its route as it is loaded on trucks in En Nahud for a long journey to Port Sudan, where it is transferred to ships. Farmers doing the arduous field work struggle to get their share of the boom.
“There are so many middlemen,” said Mahdi, the economist in Khartoum. “They buy at very cheap prices. They put their fat share on it and the government puts its fat share on it in terms of duties and taxes.”
On a tree plantation outside En Nahud, reached only via unpaved roads lined by thatched houses, village farmer Mohammed Adam says he makes 4,000 pounds a year from his crop.
“We wish we could benefit from gum arabic like the exporters,” said Adam, who belongs to one of 3,000 gum arabic associations in Sudan. To feed his family, he also cultivates beans.
The U.N. World Food Program and World Bank provide aid to small farmers in Sudan but the industry also faces another problem: a shortage of workers. Many labourers who used to work for Adam prefer, like an estimated half million Sudanese, to dig for gold in the desert.
“We need workers for the tapping, but it’s difficult to get them because they search for gold and they are expensive,” Adam said.
*Image fro Arab News