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Mahdi Abu and his wife in front of their home.
Mahdi Abu and his wife in front of their home.

NEF trainings increase income among rural farmers, promote protection of gum arabic trees and expand forests

Over the past year, NEF has worked with over 400 farmers to provide training that is changing the way forest resources are harvested in Sudan's "gum belt," and preserving an important source of revenue for people in impoverished rural areas of the country.

One such farmer is Mahdi Abu Alhassan Ibrahim.  For many of his 58 years, he has farmed gum arabic in Alodiat Alshargia, a village in the Um Ruwaba locality of Sudan’s North Kordofan State. Until recently, Mahdi Abu had never received formal training in gum arabic production. Instead, he used traditional harvesting techniques, which often damage Sudan's gum forests and threaten the future livelihoods of many communities.

“I did not know how to protect gum arabic trees,” Mahdi Abu said.  “The tools I used for tapping actually destroyed my trees. My family would cut trees for wood. I also stored my gum arabic in plastic bags—which changed its color, smell, and texture, lowering its price at market.”

Over the past year, Mahdi Abu participated in the Near East Foundation’s Sustainable Gum Arabic Production project.  He benefitted from trainings offered to the gum arabic producer association to which he belongs. The trainings provided him and hundreds of other farmers with new techniques and skills for harvesting and selling gum arabic. 

Mahdi Abu now uses improved tools for tapping which leave smaller cuts in his trees—preventing infestation by bugs and the early death of this valuable resource. He learned how to collect, clean, sort, dry, and store gum arabic seeds for future planting.

By improving the way they harvest gum, Mahdi Abu and others are now collecting a higher price at market--which has   increased income for families trying to earn a living wage throughout the "gum belt."

The semi-arid Sahelian region of Sudan is highly vulnerable to drought, land degradation, and famine. The new skills and increased revenues resulting from NEF trainings are having a significant impact on families in the region. The project also encourages planting of new gum arabic trees, which provide an important barrier to the encroaching desert in places like Mahdi Abu’s village of Alodiat Alshargia.

“With the support of the Near East Foundation, I have learned new ways to increase my income and improve my family’s well-being through gum arabic, agriculture, and micro-credit projects,” Mahdi Abu said. “We have also learned the value of gum arabic trees and the importance of protecting this resource.”

We thank you for your generous support, which helps farmers like Mahdi Abu and preserves forest resources to ensure a healthy planet for us all!

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Hosna Abker sits by her new butane gas cooker.
Hosna Abker sits by her new butane gas cooker.

Training in new production methods and financing through microcredit are allowing gum arabic producers to protect forests and improve their income.

Hosna Abker Ahmed Ismail, 34, is a farmer in Abu Hamra, a village in Sudan’s Um Ruwaba locality of North Kordofan. Until last year, she tended a small garden and helped in gum arabic cultivation—tapping trees to produce this marketable gum. Like many women in this poverty-stricken rural area, she struggled to find fuel for cooking and the resources to feed her family of eight.

Over the past year, Hosna Abker has participated in the Near East Foundation’s Sustainable Gum Arabic Production project—a project that has changed her life. 

Hosna is one of 400+ producers that received training through the project. Many also benefited from the project’s microcredit funds, which give farmers loans to obtain the supplies they need to help grow their business.

“Before the trainings, I did not care about gum arabic trees,” she said.  “I cut the trees for wood.  I used very bad tools for tapping.  I stored the gum in plastic bags, which changed its color, smell, and shape—and reduced the market price.”

Through trainings, Hosna Abker learned how to use better tools for tapping (the sonki).  She learned how to properly collect, clean, and store gum to retain its highest value; she also learned how to sort, dry, and store seeds for future planting. She learned the environmental importance of the gum arabic forests.

Based on her new knowledge, Hosna Abker no longer wanted to have to cut gum arabic trees for fuel. She applied for a microcredit grant to purchase a butane gas cooker.  This cooker lasts for several months, and allows her a number of extra hours each day – time she previously spent collecting wood. She now spends more time with her children, and more time helping with other income generating activities – tapping trees, working in her garden, and improving her family’s livelihood.

With her new knowledge and resources, Hosna Abker’s outlook has changed.  She has more hope for the future.

“Before the trainings, I just cared for my garden,” she said. “Now I will improve my life through agriculture, gum arabic, and microcredit projects. I will do more to increase my activities in the future, so as to improve my life, increase my family income, and achieve my hopes.

A woman receives a gas tank through microcredit.
A woman receives a gas tank through microcredit.

The Near East Foundation (NEF) launched its gum arabic pilot project in 2010 with the goal of improving livelihoods in central Sudan by simultaneously increasing incomes of small-scale gum producers and expanding forest cover in the dry forest ecosystem. Sudan is one of the leading global producers of gum arabic, a natural forest resource widely used in global markets as a stabilizer, yet little profit from its production reaches local producers who remain in poverty and vulnerable to food insecurity.

Working with gum arabic cultivating populations in the locality of Um Ruwaba in Sudan’s North Kordofan State, the project’s modest pilot in four initial villages has had significant results and gained praise from local governmental authorities engaged in its work. The gum arabic project has worked with Gum Arabic Producer Associations (GAPAs) in each targeted site. The project has:

  • Trained 417 gum arabic farmers and members of targeted communities in forest management, sustainable harvesting techniques, and organizational development. 119 of those trained are women.
  • Benefited 100+ individuals through its microlending funds. This number is increasingly steadily as communities redistribute funds after they are repaid.
  • Allowed 4 pilot villages to pursue steps to establish protected forest areas for gum arabic trees; this activity was undertaken in coordination and consultation with pastoralists to mitigate conflict.

Over 100 Benefit from Microfinance Pilot

The Near East Foundation has piloted micro-lending facilities with each Gum Arabic Producer Association (GAPA) to promote sustainable gum production. These lending facilities ($2500 per village) were created with the goal of providing GAPA members with funds for gum-related activities (tapping trees, purchasing tools) and other livelihood diversification activities that allow them to manage hardship seasons without credit from local gum traders.

Through the project, GAPA members have received training in microcredit fund management and bookkeeping. NEF developed a standard credit agreement for all credit recipients, and has tracked loans granted in each village.

Over $10,000 has been lent to over 100 beneficiaries in the 4 pilot villages.  Loans have ranged between 230 to 700 SDG per recipient ($90-$250). Most projects have focused on butane gas cylinder purchases, livestock development, or brick-making, all of which reduce pressure on forests (adaptation). With gas cylinders, women have saved countless hours they typically spend searching for wood, and have been able to focus their energy on other activities.

The microlending model has been highly successful, with 100% repayment rates and re-lending of financial capital. Individuals have joined the GAPAs to have access to microcredit; community members have expressed an interest in increasing the microlending funds. Moving forward, NEF will partner with the Agricultural Bank of Sudan to secure additional funding for communities.

Microcredit projects in the four pilot sites include the following:

Um Ganas

  • 12 Sheep Project Loans
  • 6 Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans

Abu Hamra

  • 22  Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans

Aladiat ElGarbia

  • 7 Brick Project Loans
  • 2 Animal Breeding Project Loans
  • 2 Sheep Project Loans
  • 17 Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans

Aladiat Elshargia

  • 26 Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans
  • 2 Sheep Project Loans

Institutional Strengthening and Community-Based Forest Management

NEF’s training sessions went beyond gum arabic production techniques – focusing on issues of GAPA organizational development, conflict management, and broader natural resource management. During his frequent visits to the field sites, NEF’s Natural Resource Management Specialist held formal and informal meetings with community members.

As a result of these trainings, all four targeted communities have worked with the Forests National Corporation to protect areas of gum arabic trees from pastoralists. GAPA community leaders met with representatives from pastoralist groups to discuss the protection of sites and mitigate conflicts. Government authorities have recognized NEF’s work, and have asked to design a joint structure at the regional level to help mitigate natural resource conflicts.

Field Visit

NEF's President and Program Officer travelled to Sudan to view the impact of the project in the field.  In meetings with community members, government officials, and the project team, it was evident that the project has had a strong impact on the initial pilot communities and is seen as a model in the region for community-based economic development through natural resource management.  Partners and community members are interested in promoting the expansion of this model.

Community with microcredit purchases.
Community with microcredit purchases.
Community members participate in a training.
Community members participate in a training.
Community members participate in a field training.
Community members participate in a field training.
Gum Arabic at the Market
Gum Arabic at the Market

The project is now well under way, and so far we have seen truly incredible levels of participation. In total, 417 gum arabic farmers and other members of target communities have been trained in forest management and sustainable harvesting technique; of these, 119 are women. Community leaders have expressed strong support for the trainings, and have recently gone to local government headquarters to register the land on which their acacia groves grow in order to protect them from grazing and other forms of deforestation.

In the coming months, we will begin to disburse microcredit funds to recent trainees. Fund recipients say their first priority with the money will be to purchase cylinder ovens and a supply of gas to use for fuel so that they no longer have to cut down acacia trees for wood.

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Organization

Project Leader

Sarah Peterson

Program Officer
New York, NY United States

Where is this project located?

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