With a combined production and export capacity of about 47,925 mts in 2003 by the three leading world producers of gum Arabic namely: Sudan, Nigeria and Chad, and with an estimated combined potential production capacity of about 160,000 mts at full exploitation, the above three leading producing countries and the other eleven African producing countries can meet the world demand for gum Arabic which could be anything between 55,000-70,000 mts as at 2003, given the right support by the international community.
Because of the absence of accurate export data in Nigeria and Chad and the significant level of cross boarder trade between Sudan and Chad on one hand and Chad and Nigeria on the other hand, it is difficult to ascertain the actual level of exports from the two countries. This is complicated by the fact that the export of gum Arabic from Nigeria to India which is Nigeria’s most important gum Arabic trading partner is hardly properly reported. The contribution of these two countries to the volume of the world demand for gum Arabic can, therefore hardly be estimated with a reasonable degree of accuracy. There is no doubt, however that the world production and demand for gum Arabic is increasing on a yearly basis since 2000 AD and that the three leading producing countries of Sudan, Nigeria and Chad along with the other African producing countries of gum Arabic are capable of meeting the increasing world demand for natural gum Arabic given the right support from the international community.
While production and export data is reasonably managed in Sudan, essential data required for planning purposes is not collected and managed properly in Nigeria and Chad. The following institutions in Nigeria and Chad could be assisted for the proper collection and management of data in the gum Arabic industry:
NIGERIA: The Nigerian Ports Authority working closely with the National Association
of Gum Arabic Producers Processors and Exporters of Nigeria (NAGAPPEN).
CHAD: The Chad Customs working closely with the Gum Arabic Exporters Association in Chad.
To increase production in the three major producing countries, the following interventions are necessary:
♦ Sustain efforts to boost producer price levels in Sudan. This is the most important element which needs to be addressed to ensure rapid increase in gum Arabic production in Sudan.
♦ Massive reforestation of existing gum Arabic Forests and fresh plantations in Nigeria with managed water conservation programs.
♦ Provision of portable water in remote producing areas in Sudan, Chad and Nigeria.
♦ Advocacy and legislative support in Nigeria and Chad against cutting of gum Arabic trees, bush burning and campaign to enlighten producing communities on the economic importance and utility of gum Arabic trees.
♦ Development of specific markets in Nigeria where farmers and suppliers can bring in their gum Arabic for sales as is the practice in Chad. This will help to control quality as well as develop the local market.
♦ Integrated action by the international community to deal with the annual problem of Quilla birds and locust, which are attracted by gum Arabic trees with devastating effects.
To arrest the recurring incidence of shortages and overproduction of gum Arabic, a stabilizing trade instrument in the nature of Buffer Stock is not only inevitable but urgent to secure the future of this commodity.
In the current year (2004), the international prices of gum Arabic tripled in some cases as a result of shortages following low production and the complete erosion of the buffer stock previously maintained by Sudan. This problem occurs at least once every decade leading end users to continue their unending search for substitutes for gum Arabic. Only a buffer stock can arrest this problem and give the required confidence to overseas processors and end users of gum Arabic. The time to establish this buffer stock in the three main producing States of Chad, Nigeria and Sudan is now. Because of the capital-intensive nature of a buffer stock, none of the three major producing countries can foot the bill for the project. Support of international donor agencies is essential with FAO supervising the project.
A faster way of doing this is for our local businessmen/stakeholders to partner with willing oversea Gum Arabic processors in establishing processing plants within African gum Arabic producing countries.
While the international market prices of raw gum Arabic continue to fluctuate or decrease, the international prices of processed gum Arabic is either stable or increasing. Poverty reduction in the producing countries of gum Arabic can only be achieved through gum Arabic only if value is added to this product through processing to enable them reap higher profits.
Because of the Capital Intensive nature of gum Arabic processing plants and the difficulty to access world markets for processed gum Arabic, international assistance is needed by African producing countries to establish gum Arabic processing plants and to access difficult world markets for processed gum Arabic.
Sudan is doing very well in research into various areas of gum Arabic. Chad and Nigeria, however require a lot of institutional support to enable them carry out research into all aspects of gum Arabic including improved seedling production, product and process development as well as local and international market development.
An important component of a development strategy for natural gums in the region, is the need for a credible Seed Bank in each of the NGARA member countries. During the mission in Nigeria and Chad, it was discovered that there are many suppliers of gum Arabic seed and seedlings of doubtful integrity and traceability. The danger of this practice is that the result will not be known until four or five years when the trees will be due for production. It is important therefore that seed banks of proven integrity and traceability should be established in NGARA member countries to take care of planting projects.