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Gum arabic in Sudan: production and
socio-economic aspects

H. O. Abdel Nour

 

INTRODUCTION

The Sudan is the largest country in Africa covering a land area of 2 506 800 km2. It stretches in length over 2 000 kilometers, from 3' 30 to 23 degrees north, and over 1 800 km in breadth, from 12' 30 to 39 degrees East. Its great length gives the Sudan a unique range of ecological systems. It extends from dry, sandy desert in the north and north central regions through the thorny low trees of the low rainfall savannah in the central belt, to the broadleaf high rainfall savannah and lofty closed canopy tropical forests in the southern parts of the central belt and in the south. There is a variation of clay soils in the east and sandy soils in the west containing remarkable variety of flora.

In 1993 the population was 26.41 million. The bulk of the population (78%) lives in the North, particularly in the central belt, and 22% live in the South.

 

THE NATURAL FORESTS IN SUDAN

Harrison and Jackson (1958) recognize five major divisions in the natural forests in the Sudan.

The Desert

Desert conditions prevail over the northern parts of Sudan where the rainfall does not exceed 75 mm per annum. Vegetation is virtually absent except along water courses and as ephemeral herbs and grasses which appear soon after the rare showers.

The Semi Desert

The semi-desert extends from East to West in the area immediately south of the desert and stretches to the northern central parts of the Northern States. The rainfall varies from 75 mm to 300 mm increasing southward and westward and is unreliable. There are various types of skeletal desert soils varying from clays to desert gravel pavements and sands. The vegetation is a mixture of grasses and herbs with occasional bushes that grow along channels. The most abundant species are Acacia tortilis, replaced or associated with A. raddiana, Ziziphus spina-christi, Capparis decidua and Balanites aegyptiaca along water channels.

Savannah Woodland

This type of woodland extends across the central belt and covers most of the Southern States. Rainfall varies from 300 mm to over 1500 mm. The savannah woodland is divided into two main zones; the low rainfall savannah (300 mm to 800 mm) and the high rainfall savannah (over 800 mm per annum).

The low rainfall savannah has principally heavy dark clay soils in the east, dominated by thorny acacias such as Acacia mellifera and Acacia seyal, A.senegal and Balanites aegyptiaca. Further south, where the soil tends to be lighter, with frequent rocky fragments, species change to broadleaf such as Combretum hartmannianum, Anogeissus leiocarpus and Terminalia brownii in mixture with Acacias. West of the Nile, the soil changes abruptly although the same species exist. In addition, the following broadleaf species grow in this area: Combretum hartmannianum, C. cordofanum, Terminalia laxiflora, Gauria senegalensis, Dalbergia melanxylon, Adansonia digitata, Tamarindus indica, Albizzia sericocephela, Sclerocarya birrea and Prosopis africana.

Acacia senegal, the source of gum arabic, is the second export commodity of the country. It grows principally in the Western Nile belt where it is mixed with Acacia seyal (a source of lower grade gum arabic) and with Balanites aegyptiaca which grows mostly in the southern parts of the region.

The High Rainfall Savanna covers the southern parts of the Northern States and the whole of the Southern States. The soil is mostly laterite and red loam. The tree species are predominantly broadleaf comprising some valuable timber species such as Khaya senegalensis, Isoberlinia doka, Daniellia oliveri, Afzelia africana, Anogeissus leiocarpus and various species of Combretum and Terminalia. Where the rainfall exceeds 1500 mm, there are closed tropical forests containing valuable species such as Khaya grandifoliola and Entandrophragma angolensis.

The Flood Region

The region lies adjacent to the White Nile in the central parts of the Upper Nile States, the northern and western parts of Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal States in the South. The region is is permanently flooded by the White Nile in the areas adjacent to the channel and temporarily flooded by rains in the areas further from the river. Trees exist only in some isolated higher areas, composed mostly of thorny acacias.

Mountain vegetation

There are four mountain areas in the Sudan. These areas are the ranges of the Imatong and Dongatana, the Didinga in the South of Equatoria State, the Red Sea hills in the East, and Jebal in the West of Dafur State. The mountain ranges in Equatoria contain the usual tropical forest Marra species plus some coniferous species such as Podocarpus melanjianus and Juniperus procera in addition to Olea hochstetteri and O. chrysophylla. The latter also grow in Jebal Marra and the Red Sea hills.

 

PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS FROM SUDAN’S FORESTS

The forestry sector contributes more than 10% of the GDP, besides the indirect benefits of environmental protection, soil amelioration, more opportunities for rural population etc.

Perhaps the most tangible benefit derived by the people of Sudan from their forests is fuel wood (fire wood and charcoal).

 

WOOD PRODUCTS

According to a recently conducted survey (Forest Products Survey, 1996), Sudan consumed five million tons of oil equivalent in energy, 77.8% of which was in the form of wood and charcoal, 8.4% from other biomass, 6.5% as pertroleum products and 7.3% as hydroelectric power.

 

NWFP FROM SUDAN’S FORESTS

Gum arabic

The most important NWFP in the Sudan is gum arabic which is an exudate of Acacia senegal known as gum hashab and A. seyal. Gum arabic is the second export commodity and hard currency earner as shown in Table (2). In this respect, Sudan commands over 80% of the world’s gum arabic production and trade. Both species spread naturally in the central belt of the low rainfall savannah where they exist in pure or mixed stands, in the clay plains in the East and sandy soils in the West. Besides its significant economic role for the country, gum arabic plays an important part in rural life, providing a steady income to rural families especially in dry years when crops fail.

In an attempt to protect gum users against production fluctuations, Sudan has embarked on a steady A. senegal planting programme since the late fifties. From the early nineties, A. senegal plantations make up more than 50% of the annual afforestation/reforestation programmes with an annual average of 60 000 feddans (25200 ha). The total area of A. senegal planted in 1996 was 669291 feddans (281102 ha).

Over the years Sudan has developed a complete protocol of gum arabic husbandry from seed collection through nursery techniques, planting, tending, tapping, collection, cleaning, grading, processing and marketing.

Gum arabic production

Gum arabic from the Sudan is a product of Acacia senegal and A. seyal species. Acacia senegal var. senegal is the only variety which grows in the Sudan and is the main source of commercial gum arabic (hashab). On the other hand, both varieties of Acacia seyal i.e. var. seyal and var. fistula are found in Sudan. The former is characterised by normal spines and green, white or red bark while var. fistula is characterised by inflated spines (ant-gallsand a whitish bark. Both varieties produce a commercial gum referred to as "talha" (Chikami et al 1997).

Production of gum arabic is concentrated in the "gum belt" an area of central Sudan roughly between latitudes 10o and 14o North. Two areas outside these borders are in the north east (Faw-Gedared-Kassala) and in the south east along the Blue Nile/Upper Nile border.

The Gum belt’s gross area is estimated to cover 520,000 square kilometers, roughly one fifth of Sudan's total area. It spans over 12 states: Western Darfur, N. Darfur, S. Darfur, N. Kordofan, W. Kordofan, S. Kordofan, White Nile, Upper Nile Jonglie, Sennar, Blie Nile and Gedaref. The belt covers parts of the clay and sandy plains. The sandy plains are in the first seven states and the clay plains are in the latter five states.

Management aspects

Gum hashab in Sudan is derived from both natural stands and plantations and collected by tapping of the trees. Gum talha, on the other hand, comes mostly from natural stands and through natural exudation. Managemennt of the resources for gum production falls into one of two systems: hashab owner or hashab renter.

Regeneration of Acacia senegal resources

Acacia senegal occurs naturally in pure stands on the sandy soils of Kordofan and Darfur, in rotational bush-fallow cultivation system and in areas where no cropping activity is practised. It also grows naturally in the central clay plains of central and eastern Sudan, through rarely in pure stands. The natural regeneration of Acacia senegal comes mainly from the natural seed fall.

Artificial regeneration of hashab is carried out both by direct sowing of seeds and transplanting of seedlings. More than 50% of gum arabic produced in Sudan is obtained from plantations or naturally regenerated stands. Plantations and naturally regenerated stands are owned by individuals, government or cooperative bodies. A. senegal also regenerates by coppicing.

Potential of gum arabic production in the Sudan

The elements necessary for quantifying the production potential of gum include land use trends, areas currently under A. senegal and A. seyal, tree densities, and current production trends.

Recent estimates of production potential indicate that it is possible to double Sudan’s current production (i.e. to 50,000–80,000 tonnes) from existing natural tree stocks, plantations raised through afforestation over the last decade, and plantations to be established up through the year 2000.

Constraints and opportunities of improving management of the resource

Beside the drought spells, perhaps the most important man-influenced constraint which faced the gum production was the reduction of forest cover in the gumbelt of Sudan. This was brought about by the extensive expansion in agriculture for crop production, particularly mechanized rainfed farming and omittance of the hashab tree from the traditional tree fallow system, influenced by the declining prices of gum as compared to those of such crops as sesame and groundunts.

A number of polices, legislation programmes and projects were implemented by the Sudanese Government to redress the situation. These brought the reduction of forest cover to a halt, reversed the process and helped to increase the number of gum Acacia trees substantially.

 

PRODUCTION, TRADE AND MARKETING, SUPPLY AND DEMAND TRENDS

Production

In modern times, recorded Gum arabic production during the 1950s averaged just over 40 000 tonnes/year. Since then, there have been fluctuations in production. Five year annual averages for the period 1960 – 94 are given in Table (1).

The data in Table (1) shows a drastic drop in production (more than half) in the last decade compared to that in the 1960s (when it averaged over 84,000 tonnes/year).

 

Table (1) : Gum arabic production in Sudan. (5- year annual averages), 1960–94 (tonnes).

 

1960 - 64

65 -69

70 - 74

75 - 79

80 - 84

85 - 89

90 – 94

Annual
Average

46 550

50 576

35 073

37 408

31 079

23 721

18 358

Gum hashab

44 299
(95%)

47 434
(94%)

30 910
(88%)

36 026
(96%)

26 721
(86%)

19 777
(83%)

15 038
(82%)

Gum talha

2 251
(5%)

3 142
(6%)

4 163
(12%)

1 382
(4%)

4 358
(14%)

3 944
(17%)

3 320
(18%)

Source: Gum Arabic Company (GAC), Sudan

 

Exports

The gum export trade is given in Table (2). Exports of gum arabic from Sudan in volume and value for the period 1988-94 are given in Table (3). Gum hashab is separated from gum talha.

 

Table (2) The Gum Arabic Export Trade (Sudan)

Years

A. senegal
Tons

A. seyal
Tons

Total Gum Exports
Tons

Value
(USD)

1979

41531

1135

42666

50,995,839

1980

32221

1080

33301

42,606,822

1981

33664

1999

35553

49,073,248

1982

28534

1700

30234

43,175,158

1983

37840

3408

41248

57,690,063

1984

29603

3632

33235

45,389,076

1985

12618

14210

29828

36,783,204

1986

16482

2236

18717

48,727,158

1987

16099

1645

17744

78,791,426

1988

16672

1931

18603

65,713,290

1989

17385

1967

19362

46,786,994

1990

22960

3952

26912

54,594,740

1991

21543

3435

24978

50,818,664

 

Table (3) : Gum arabic: exports from Sudan, 1988–94 (tons; US $ millions)

 

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

Total

18 603

19 352

26 912

24 978

14 068

15 730

22 735

FOB value

55.7

46.8

54.6

50.8

23.4

40.0

76.1

Gum hashab

16 672

17 385

22 960

21 543

8 198

9 925

18 339

Gum talha

1 931

1 967

3 952

3 435

5 870

5 805

4 396

Source: Gum arabic Company (GAC), Sudan

 

The biggest international market collectively is in Europe. Total recorded imports of Sudanese gum arabic into the European Community are given in Table (4) for 1988–93.

 

Table (4) : Gum arabic: imports into the European Community, 1988–93 (tons)

  

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

Total

9 963

12 463

14 400

17 098

10 215

9 304

France

3 016

3 815

5 023

7 074

5 219

5 118

UK

2 580

3 176

3 053

2 521

2 118

1 168

Italy

2 205

2 645

2 675

3 431

1 007

1 935

Germany

1 265

1 659

1 388

1 804

1 027

478

Denmark

411

716

755

727

608

440

Belgium/Lux

261

200

360

280

80

120

Spain

129

159

96

90

56

45

Greece

65

90

50

31

-

-

Netherlands

-

-

1 000

1 140

100

-

Portugal

1

3

-

-

-

-

Ireland

-

-

-

-

-

-

Source: Eurostat.

 

Production methodologies

Gum collection (tapping)
Gum hashab is collected from A. senegal by tapping, whereas all gum talha (from A. seyal) is collected as a result of natural exudation. Tapping begins when the trees are just starting to shed their leaves. Ore traditional methods of tapping involved making small incisions into the tree with an axe which, over the years was replaced with a specially designed tool. After this superficial injury, tears of gum form on the exposed surfaces and are left to dry and harden. After five weeks the first collection of gum is made, with further collections from the same trees at approximately 15–day intervals until the end of February, up to five or six collections in total.

Post–harvest handling
At present little cleaning or sorting is undertaken by the producer (collector) of the gum. Some degree of cleaning and sorting may be undertaken by small village traders to whom the producer sells his gum, but it is usually undertaken by the large traders after it has been sold and prior to selling it to the Gum Arabic Company (GAC). If the GAC buys the gum, it cleans and sorts at its own warehouses in the regional centres of the gum belt.

On arrival at the GAC depot at Port Sudan, every consignment of gum hashab is recleaned, sorted and graded in preparation for export.

Grades and prices

The outputs from the cleaning and sorting operation are graded and sold according to the following main designations: Hand Picked Selected (HPS); Cleaned; Siftings; Dust; Red.

Gum talha was formerly sold only as one grade (cleaned). However, from 1995 it is cleaned and sorted into three grades: Super; Standard clean; Siftings.

Constraints and opportunities of improving production and marketing

Security of supply is a major concern of end-users of gum arabic. Sudan’s large planting programme of Acacia (principally A. senegal) is an important step in increasing the gum arabic resource. The size of the A. seyal resource in Sudan gives the greatest opportunity for increased production to gum talha.

Maintenance of high levels of production of gum arabic, requires the cooperation of the producer, to provide more attractive crops or products. If high production levels can be maintained, and if the market does not acquire the extra gum immediately, the possibility of creating buffer stocks to safeguard against years of low production is possible.

Constraints and opportunities for improving quality and quality control

As already mentioned, problems of quality and quality control in Sudan are minimal. However, there is still room for further improvement. First, it is essential to know whether gum arabic produced from the two soil types - the sandy soil and clay soil - have different intrinsic qualities. There is good human resource capacity in Sudan in the area of quality and quality control; at the University of Khartoum, Sudan University for Science & Technology (SUST) and GAC laboratory at Port Sudan.

Gum production is a well–established activity. All appears to be favourable for its sustainable growth including policies, legislation, institutions, resource management and development and quality control. However, certain aspects such as productivity and chemistry still require further research.

Gum talha (A. seyal) has intrinsically different properties, which make it suited to many of the application for which hashab is used. Collection and cleaning practices in Sudan have traditionally kept the two types of gum separate.

The progressive drop in world consumption since the seventies, brought about by fluctuations in production and price, put the gum trade in a critical situation. The corrective measures undertaken by Sudan since the early eighties, particularly restocking of the gum belt, expansion of growing stock and prices, encouraged production to rise to the levels of the sixties.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Cooperation and support are needed in the following areas:

  1. Research on aspects including inter alia breeding, selection, productivity and chemistry of gum producing trees.
  2. Expansion of the resources through restocking of areas in both sandy soils and plains covered by such activities.
  3. Finance and management of buffer stock in Sudan and in consumer countries.

 

REFERENCES

Chikami, B.N., Casadei, E., Coppen, J.J.W., Abdel Nour, H.O. and Cesareo, D. (1997). A Reivew of production, Markets and Quality Control of Gum Arabic in Africa. FAO. Technical Cooperation Programme. TCP/RAF/4557. Rome.

Harrison and Jackson. (1958). Ecological Classification of the Vegetation of the Sudan.


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