Growing demand for gum arabic offers new opportunities for African producers
In a special gum arabic-themed edition of its Commodities at a Glance series, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) spotlights the huge potential of revenue growth in transforming gum arabic into processed export goods.
Given its many desirable properties, safety record and natural origin, gum arabic is the most commercially valuable of what are known as exudate gums – those secreted by plants. It is used as a stabilizer, a binder, an emulsifier or a viscosity-increasing agent, not only in confectionery, soft drinks, wine, liquor, or 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 are Sudan, which accounts for 66% of the total, Chad with 13%, and Nigeria with 8.5%, in 2014–2016.
Since the 2000s, however, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan have produced highgrade gum arabic at local processing facilities.
Crude gum arabic export revenues increased from an annual average of $95.4 million in 1992–1994 to an annual average of $150.3 million in 2014–2016. During the same period, revenues from exports of processed gum arabic increased from $74.4 million to $192 million, 90% of which accrued to exporting countries in Europe.
Whereas the annual average export value of processed gum arabic increased by 158% in the last 25 years, the annual average export value of crude gum arabic increased by only 58%.