P.L. Thomas, the only US representative at the recent Gum Arabic industry meeting in Sudan, tells Anthony Fletcher why the international commitment to secure long-term supplies of gum Arabic is such an important breakthrough.
The market for the ingredient, obtained from Acacia trees and used extensively by the food and beverage industry as a means of preventing sugar crystallization and the emulsification of fat, has been subject to tremendous external pressures such as war, exhausted stocks and unstable prices.
But the Khartoum summit between leading gum producers Sudan, Chad and Nigeria and international firms and organizations could be a major breakthrough. It achieved a vital consensus on a number of crucial issues, not least the importance of building stockpiles of about a year's worth of supplies.
"There is hope that the current effort will help improve the information flow, price stability, supply assurance and overall reputation of gum arabic," New Jersey-based ingredient supplier P.L. Thomas president Paul Flowerman, the only US participant at the meeting, told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
"We want to make the supply of gum arabic sufficiently predictable and stable that the industry can, with confidence, increase the usage in new applications. This will lead to increase business volume and help the industry grow. The aim is to make gum arabic a reliable ingredient."
For this to happen, producers need to be guaranteed a fair price for an ingredient that requires incredibly careful cultivation. It is hoped that the security stock plan will provide producers with a guarantee that will help them secure future finance to develop the industry.
The acceptance of the security stock model, developed by Prof. Enrico Casadei of FAO (the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization), will now be implemented to the specific requirements of each country.
"The existence of a security stock will be a reassurance for the manufacturers and users of gum arabic in the whole industry," said Flowerman. "If successful the process will mean assurance of supply, price stability and clear flow of information. It will make the industry feel more comfortable using gum Arabic in new formulations."
The security stock will be built by and held in the exporting countries. The details for each country will be worked out in the next 6 months.
It is for this reason that Flowerman believes the Khartoum Declaration is such a significant step forward in helping to secure an industry that faces numerous difficulties.
"Three major producing countries are now oil exporters and this presents a major demographic challenge," he said. "Many traditional collectors are now attracted to jobs related to the oil industry. Due to less collection, the growing countries were not able to replenish their reserve stocks as in previous years.
"Also five per cent of Sudan gum supplies were inaccessible due to the problems in Darfur state. Fortunately the peace treaty between north and south has opened up new areas for gum collection."
The meeting, hosted by the FNC, (Forest National Corporation) of Sudan, was attended by representatives of exporters and producers from Sudan, Chad and Nigeria.
Representatives of NGARA (Network for Natural Gums and Resins in Africa) / FAO, FNC and the World Bank, and delegates from the Association for the International Promotion of Gum (AIPG) including AIPG President Hinrich Wolff. P.L. Thomas said that many Americans were put off attending because Sudan remains a daunting and difficult destination.
At the conference Flowerman chaired several sessions and urged the participants to make tangible demonstration of their commitment and unity. He also supported the efforts to set up a follow up process to make sure that certain actions are being implemented.
"For PLT gum Arabic has been an important product for two generations, and we want to see it grow," he said.
"This meeting will be remembered as historic if the participants make good on their promises to do the necessary and doable to put gum arabic business and public relations on a stronger footing."