For an arid swath of Africa, a sap-like substance offers income possibilities for the poorest of the poor, along with environmental benefits
For those outside sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of it hails from, gum arabic may be unfamiliar. But it is, shall we say, everywhere – in food and drink, ceramics and cosmetics, and paper and ink, to name a few of the everyday items containing the substance.
The sticky sap, which scientists would call an exudate, is secreted by certain species of acacia trees and traded in its hardened form throughout the globe because of its many uses. And, exports have tripled over the last two decades.
But this boom has not yet resulted in improved livelihoods for its collectors, who live in some of the most impoverished countries in the world and have little power over prices.
A recent report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) explores the obscure commodity, its author, Economist Mario Jales, saying, “Gum arabic has huge potential, which is not fully realized. Since it is not as hot as some of the other commodities, and data and analysis are not readily available, we realized that we could make a difference. And we had great interest from our member states.”