Market Characteristics

      We now know that the gum Arabic market is dominated by exports and re-exports, just as imports are dominated by a small number of countries. On the global scale in 2002, three countries offered 95% of the gum put out for sale that is; Sudan, Chad and Nigeria. Twelve countries consumed 80% of the world’s gum Arabic among them, three countries (France, UK and Germany) re-exported 70%.

      This is therefore a very closed market where the top positions are often occupied for a long time by certain countries. Recent examples however, show that it is all the same possible to enter this market and get a place therein in about ten years to come, especially through a dynamic enterprise initiated by the private sector; Chad has just demonstrated this, brilliantly by moving from the 5% to take 25% of the market for gum Arabic within a period of ten years!.

      None of the recent studies on the diverse uses of gum Arabic are available. It is therefore not possible to give neither a current segmentation of the market nor a quantitative and qualitative distribution (in terms of hard /friable gum) of the same.

     The uses of gum Arabic are linked to its two main characteristics; its high solubility in water and its low viscosity. This gives gum Arabic eminent qualities as an emulsifier, stabilizer, thickener or adhesive of a non-toxic nature and its low calorific value and high soluble fibre , which are of major importance in nutrition and dietary applications.

     There are no real barriers to the development of a market for gum Arabic. In most countries, and particularly in Europe and North America, there is neither specific quota nor is import tax levied. Some countries ask only for the certificate of origin, others such as the U.S.A. ask also, for a certificate of fumigation in order to ascertain the phytosanitary security of the cargo and the gum Arabic. On the contrary, the delivery of ‘organic’ gum Arabic must prove that it has not undergone fumigation or the use of methyl bromide, usually used in this process being strictly forbidden in the European Articles and Conditions controlled by ECOCERT.

Gum Arabic does not follow a defined path from the producer to the consumer. This path follows rules laid down by each country. In some countries, matters concerning gum Arabic are either wholly or partly controlled by the state, but in most of these countries today, these marketing channels are left to compete freely by lucrative profit oriented private sector players, and sometimes by non-profit making NGOs. Hence we will briefly describe the channels, which lead the gum Arabic from the producer to the consumer in a system of free competition:

I. The peasant farmer taps the trees and then harvests the hard gum; or collects the nodules of the friable gum by hand, separating his harvest carefully, according to the acacia species in clean bags. This harvest is then spread under a shade on a clean canvas sheet to attain maturity (or polymerization) before being transported (by donkey, camel or truck) on the market day to the merchant.

II. The merchant empties the bags, physically checks the product, and a price is agreed upon based on the weight or volume. The gum Arabic is once more put in new bags bearing the merchant’s tags with a note about the producer (a must in the case of biological certification for traceability of the product).

III. The merchant or middle-man having hired an average size or big truck regroups the lots and transfers them to the exporter, who is an expert in the ways of passage at the customs, export and rules of international commerce. The cargo is offloaded; the bags are weighed and emptied according to the homogenous point of origin of the lots, and checked. A voucher can be made on the already agreed price (intermediary or agent) or a price be agreed upon (merchant or independent group), according to the cleanliness, the purity and the state of polymerization of the supplied gum Arabic.

IV. The exporter refines the sorting, so as to export at least a clean product, or otherwise graded, indeed most often crushed or atomized, depending on the processing equipment available. The gum Arabic is then packed while at the same time trying to differentiate the hard gum / friable gum in sacks identified sometimes by their colors, with identification of the product, the name of the exporter, country of origin, the net weight and elements of trace ability in the case of organic gum. The gum is then placed on palettes before being put into containers for exportation through customs by way of road transport, railway and then seaway.

V. The importer receives the product, he inspects it visually, then he samples it for analysis and it’s only then that he authorizes his bank to pay the exporter at the agreed price, unless the merchandise does not meet specifications.

VI. If the importer is a merchant, he sends the product to the designated industrialist. If he has his own atomization line of production of gum Arabic, he goes into the production of his range of products. The sales teams take charge of distribution of the realized products to the end users who belong to the food and pharmaceutical industries.

     In the production of powdered gum Arabic, already atomized in the country of production, it is possible to deliver directly to the end user, a decision that was up held by the SPINDAL-AEB group, which gets its supplies henceforth directly from Nigeria and the DANSA FOOD factory situated in KANO.

     Gum Arabic being a natural product, must be packed carefully ‘in a manner that allows aeration’ so as to facilitate polymerization in the course of its transportation. It has to be packed in natural weaved or synthetic fiber bags. The gum Arabic can be transported by any means of transport, it has got an unlimited life span which enables it to be transported at a fair price, particularly by boat between Africa, Asia and the other continents.

     In the past, gum Arabic was packaged in units of 100 kg but for some years now, the 50 kg bags have become the norm. In order to adhere to regulations in force in certain industrialized countries, the current tendency consists of packing the gum Arabic in bags of 25 kg, which makes certain handling operations less difficult, in the absence of mechanization. Gum Arabic being a water-soluble product, must strictly be protected from water or humidity, which can affect it through capillary rise (palette storage), such as rain (hangars or containers in good condition).

     As regards labeling, there are no existing specific standards for gum Arabic, however the general standard of the Codex Alimentaris for food additives can be used. Generally the commercial system uses the following guide:

♦ The country of origin

♦ The name of the product: Gum Arabic 17

♦ Specific name: Kordofan, Kitir, Talha

♦ The name of the exporting organization

♦ Net weight in kg

   Gum Arabic, coded E 414 (or 9000-01-05 or 232-519-5), is less known to end consumers, who don’t know what this code stands for. For the promotion of gum Arabic, it would be advisable that the gum Arabic should be clearly identified on the label when it is present in a food product.

    An inter-professional organization such as the International Association for the Promotion of Gum (IAPG), could promote the use and clear identification on labeling of gum Arabic in food products, with the support of producer countries, their exporters and international financial institutions.