The Near East Foundation has launched a new initiative in Sudan. Support for Sustainable, Profitable Gum Arabic Production—funded by a generous contribution from the Flora Family Foundation—will focus on strengthening Gum Arabic Producer Associations in North Kordofan, a region in central Sudan that was devastated by civil wars. NEF staff will incorporate years of experience in microcredit and natural resource management to promote sustainable gum harvesting and economic development in one of Africa’s most impoverished areas.
NEF will use the Flora Family Foundation’s gift to provide microcredit, train farmers in business management, and promote sustainable gum harvesting and forest management. In doing so, the foundation expects to help producer communities raise gum prices and consequently increase their incomes. In addition, NEF will draw on its work on community-based forest management in Mali to develop conflict management mechanisms to reduces tension between farmers and herders, who are members of different ethnic and religious groups. Left unattended, such disputes threaten to reignite conflict in a region already wracked by sectarian civil war.
The environmental improvement will have benefits for the whole region. Acacia trees have been shown to possess immense environmental stabilization capabilities, including the replenishment of soil leading to increased crop yields. The Um Ruwaba region of Sudan’s North Kordofan State is a deeply vulnerable area in the African “Gum Belt” that produces over half of Sudan’s gum arabic. In North Kordofan, vegetation is scant and forest cover regrowth is slow. Climate change and decreasing rainfall exacerbate resource scarcity, resulting in land degradation and endangering regional agricultural development. Because the “Gum Belt” acts as a natural barrier to desert encroachment, protecting over 40% of the total area of Sudan, NEF believes that this new project could have profound environmental and socioeconomic effects.
NEF has been active in Sudan since 1978; since the early 1990s, the foundation’s work there has focused on providing basic health care, education, and clean drinking water to isolated refugee settlements. This new project will allow NEF to leverage current strengths and expand its geographic reach.