Gum arabic suppliers: Sudan threats are not serious
off gum arabic supplies from the country are not serious, and an
embargo would not have a catastrophic effect on the world supply.
Ambassador John Ukec told reporters in Washington last week that Sudan would stop supplying the food and beverage ingredient to world markets if the US and the United Nations brought sanctions against Sudan as part of efforts to end the violence in Darfur. Gum arabic comes from the sap of the acacia tree and is used by the food and drinks industry as an ingredient to prevent sugar crystallisation and the emulsification of fat. Ukec claimed that 80 per cent of the world's supply of the emulsifier comes from Sudan. But Olivier Houalla, group sales manager at French supplier Colloïdes Naturels International (CNI) told FoodNavigator.com that this was the case 25 years ago. Since then, suppliers have sought gum from elsewhere so as not to be caught out by political or other issues affecting supply. Houalla called the statement a "non-event", and said the ambassador "should be more aware of the market". CNI, which has been active in the market for over a century, now sources only 25 per cent of its gum arabic from Sudan. The rest hails from fifteen other countries where the company has partnership, including Chad, where its relationships date back almost a century, Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. "It is still a source, but if there were sanctions, we will have enough gum Arabic from elsewhere to supply needs," he said. Likewise Paul Flowerman, president of US-based supplier PL Thomas, which sources gum arabic from Sudan under a US government license, believes Ukec's threats to be a "joke". Although he stressed that he has no links with the Sudanese government, he said that gum is too important an export for the country, with five million people depending on it for cash-sustenance. "We have seen no indication that this is no more than an off-hand and silly remark," he told FoodNavigator.com. "We regret that this product, that is not just an invaluable raw material for the international food industry but also a but also a vital source of sustenance for a large population group, has been brought into the context of politics." In his experience from a career in the gum market, including many trips to the bush, he understands the industry is of tremendous benefit to a diverse population, and even a "unifying force" between participants of different ethnic and political backgrounds. As for Darfur itself, Flowerman said it "was a significant source of gum arabic, but the conflict has deprived the industry and, more importantly and tragically, the local population, of deriving any benefit from this precious natural resource". While saying that there are "definitely some US companies that take a position on moral grounds not to buy Sudanese gum", he said that gum arabic use in the US has grown "significantly" in the last five years - despite the political situation. In CNI's experience, Houalla said US companies have been specifying non-Sudanese origin for their gum since as early as 1998. The French company sells its Sudanese gum arabic is sold primarily to European and Asian customers. According to Houalla, the present situation is that there is plenty of gum on the market and prices are quite low compared to two years ago, when crop yields were lower. Prices depend on the grade, but as a rough ballpark he said that they are now between €2 and €5 per kilo - down from €2.5 to €8 per kilo in 2005.