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:
- 12 Sheep Project Loans
- 6 Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans
- 22 Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans
- 7 Brick Project Loans
- 2 Animal Breeding Project Loans
- 2 Sheep Project Loans
- 17 Gas/Butane Cylinder Loans
- 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.
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 members participate in a training.
Community members participate in a field training.
Gum Arabic at the Market