Expanding Gum Arabic production to combat desertification

February 24, 2021 in AgricNews Update

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is working with Nigeria and other producing countries in Africa to promote Gum Arabic due to its potential to generate foreign exchange, ensure food security and combat desertification and climate change, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is spotlighting the huge potential of revenue growth that lies in transforming Gum Arabic into processed export goods. This brings a better deal for producers of Gum Arabic, a natural and versatile ingredient used in food, drinks and chemical products.

UNCTAD believes transformation of Gum Arabic into more income-generating activities cannot only promote economic development through higher incomes, but also secure rural livelihoods, empower vulnerable groups, including women, and promote synergies with natural resource management and climate change mitigation.

Globally, Gum Arabic is used as a stabiliser, a binder, an emulsifier or a viscosity-increasing agent, not only in confectionery, soft drinks, wine, liquor, and dietary fibre, but also for non-food products such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, printing, ceramics, photosensitive chemicals, textiles, paper, ink, paints and adhesives. The three largest exporters of crude gum Arabic, according to UNCTAD, are Sudan, which accounts for 66per cent of the total, Chad with 13 per cent, and Nigeria with 8.5 per cent, in 2014- 2016.

Since the 2000s, however, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan have produced high-grade Gum Arabic at local processing facilities. Nigeria has been hindered by quality inconsistency, poor market organisation and production disruptions due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

Gum Arabic, a staple in the food and pharmaceutical industries, as well as a stabiliser in the foods, beverages and medicines sector.

The President, Federation of Agricultural Commodity Associations of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr Victor Iyama said Nigeria could make  a lot of  money from  expanding  cultivation and exports of Gum Arabic.

From maintaining strategic stocks to increasing local food productions, Iyama said the government must be ready to explore ways to diversify agro export sources and maintain a sustainable flow of essential items.

He said Nigeria needs to deal with the current crisis as an opportunity to build a stronger and more flexible system of food supply chain.

Last year, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha Shehuri, said the Federal Government would continue to encourage the production of improved seedlings for growth of the Gum Arabic.

He noted that the production of Gum Arabic was on a decline mainly due to insurgency in its area of production.

“As at today, Nigeria is the fifth world producer instead of the second largest producer, which it was previously, after Sudan.The population of the now top four producers, is less than half of the population of Nigeria and the available land area of all four is about 60 per cent of Nigeria, so why is Nigeria leading from behind?

“Nigeria exports over 95 per cent of its Gum Arabic in raw form to Europe, Asia and United States, only five per cent  is utilised locally. Not processing this commodity locally is causing Nigeria huge losses in form of revenue and employment opportunities,” he said.

Shehuri said increasing Nigeria’s Gum Arabic production from its current status of about 23,040 metric tons by 20 per cent would create about 500,000 new jobs estimated at $43 million.

Amano Obolia of Ancient  Kingdom, Ahiaza Mbaise Local Government in Imo, Eze Chidume Okoro, said the plan was to restore the glory of the Gum Arabic sector in the country.

Okoro, who is also the National President of Gum Arabic Producers, Processors and Exporters of Nigeria (NAGAPPEN), called on the Ministry of Agriculture to seek the collaboration of ministries and National agencies working in gum Arabic sector to ensure a coordinated development of the sector.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.