There is a region in Sudan just north of the equator that is densely populated with Acacia trees, and known as the gum Arabic belt. It is here that gum Arabic originates, one of Sudan’s most important export products and used primarily as a stabiliser in the food industry. Abdelmagid Abdelgadir (AA), Secretary General of Gum Arabic Board, reveals more
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LE: Into which new markets are you looking to expand exports?
AA: We have started to export material to Europe, China and Japan, added to other Asian countries. Then from there, it’s re-exported to the US. There is a great chance of eventually being able to export directly from Sudan to the US. We currently sell, for example, one tonne of gum Arabic for about $3,200 (US) delivered FOB in Port Sudan. It is very sad for us that American traders are presumably buying it for prices that probably rocket sky high.
LE: How would you be looking to increase your market share in these Asian markets?
AA: We have knocked on the doors of our friends. We have good relations with China and we recently established a research centre for gum Arabic there, as well as another one in Malaysia. These are the two countries with the greatest potential. Also, financially speaking, we recently made some mutual official adjustments to ease the flow of trade; they now accept Sudanese currency, which avoids exchanging via the dollar. This will, of course, increase the volume of the business. In the event that we can’t find any solutions using American or European technology for producing and processing gum Arabic, we can opt to use Chinese technology as an alternative.
In the event we can’t find any solutions using American or European technology for producing and processing gum Arabic, we can opt to use Chinese technology as an alternative
LE: How do you promote gum Arabic internationally?
AA: Unfortunately, gum Arabic is currently a buyer’s market product, not a seller’s one. There are no difficulties in exporting whatever is locally produced. But in the future, if production increases, we will have to extend to a wider market. Presently, we are participating in all the major exhibitions in the Middle East, in Dubai and in Qatar. We are promoting the product as well in similar forums in Turkey, Japan, Korea and China in order to gain new markets, particularly in food ingredients exhibitions. We aim to establish links with reputed external research institutions to better understand the potential of the physical and chemical nature of the product and to find alternative uses for this product, that is organic and natural. Research is our main gateway for the promotion of this product, one that has survived many influxes throughout history. We are talking about a product that survived as a trade item between countries for more than 5,000 years.
LE: What are you doing in order to market added value investment opportunities in gum Arabic?
AA: Gum Arabic is used in medicines, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Consequently, the hygiene standards are very high. Up to now, focus has been on satisfactory and standard preparation of gum Arabic for it to meet hygiene standards and come in convenient packaging. We have not gone far into the processing of gum Arabic. Techniques for spray-dry powder are rather expensive on the one hand, and on the other they require advanced technology. And because of the embargo, we can’t make this product in Sudan.
Current research efforts have not reached the stage of fractionation of the gum molecule itself; less so tailoring it to marketable, diversified international needs. There’s a part of this molecule that goes into wine, another part that can be used for cigarettes and another which can go into medicine. Encapsulation, or developing active molecules such as life-saving drugs or aphrodisiacs, are all potential products to develop, in line with the specific functional properties.
Free zones are inviting international investors to establish their industrial plants, thus allowing them to access the product, which could help with sustainable production. Buyers could help too, by boosting local research that addresses specific issues such as hygiene and the expansion of production.
Encapsulation, or developing active molecules such as life-saving drugs or aphrodisiacs, are all potential products to develop, in line with the specific functional properties
LE: What type of investors are already involved with gum Arabic?
AA: Currently our investors are either European or American. We cannot share processing with our friends in Asia or in the Middle East, simply because our main consumers are already in the West. The West has top-notch industrial techniques that revolutionise products. Advanced medicines are processed there, and also new drinks are created there. In the same way, if you look at a drink such as Pepsi Cola, its homeland is not Asia or the Middle East. It is owned and produced in the US. From there, the concept radiated throughout the franchising system, and extended to the rest of the world. Other countries are just re-bottling the products.