(H. O. Abdel Nour) - 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 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 program since the late fifties. From the early nineties, A. senegal plantations make up more than 50% of the annual a forestation/reforestation programs 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 characterized by normal spines and green, white or red bark while var. fistula is characterized by inflated spines (ant-gallsand a whitish bark. Both varieties produce a commercial gum.
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, , 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.
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. Management 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 tones) 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 gum belt of Sudan. This was brought about by the extensive expansion in agriculture for crop production, particularly mechanized rain fed farming 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 groundnuts.
A number of polices, legislation programs 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.