International consumer goods manufacturers are racing to replenish supplies of gum Arabic, which is critical for the food, drink and cosmetics industries.
The country in northeastern Africa is the largest producer of gum Arabic, a resin extracted from the acacia trees.
It is used as a key component in a wide range of products, from cosmetics and candy to fizzy drinks.
Around 70% of the world’s supply of gum Arabic, for which few substitutes exist, comes from acacias in the Sahel, a region of Africa that is being torn by the fighting between an army and paramilitary forces.
Reuters contacted 12 exporters, distributors and suppliers who told them that the trade in gum has ceased. The gum is used to bind food and beverage ingredients.
Mohamad alnoor of Gum Arabic USA said that it is “impossible” at this time to obtain additional gum arabic in rural areas of Sudan due to the chaos and road blocks.
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Two generals have fallen out over an international deal that was brokered with democracy activists. The deal was to integrate the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces into the military, and ultimately lead to civil rule.
A popular uprising in 2019 overthrew the islamist autocrat Omar al Bashir. In 2021, the army and RSF jointly staged a military coup.
The relationship between these two factions deteriorated during the negotiations to form a civilian administration and integrate them.
Exporters and industry sources said that companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsico and others who depend on gum arabic have been stockpiling supplies for years. Some keep between three and six months’ worth of supply to avoid running out, they added.
According to Richard Finnegan a procurement manager for Kerry Group, which supplies gum arabic (a natural sweetener) to many major food and beverage firms, the length of the conflict could have ramifications on finished products on the shelves.
He believes that current stocks will be exhausted in 5 to 6 months.
Martijn Bergkamp is of the same opinion. He estimates that between supplies will last three to six month.
Alwaleed Ali owns AGP Innovations Co Ltd., an exporter of gum arabic. He said that his customers were looking for other countries to source the product.
Ingredion Inc., a US-based ingredients supplier in Illinois told Reuters that “we have proactive measures across our business in order to ensure continuity of supply for customers.”
According to estimates by Kerry Group, the global production of gum Arabic is approximately 120,000 tonnes per year. This amounts to $1.1bn or PS883m (£883m).
Kerry Group and other suppliers including Sweden’s Gum Sudan said that communicating with contacts on-the-ground has been difficult.
Jinesh Doshi said that Vijay Bros in Mumbai, India, importer, was struggling to get supplies because of the conflict. Both buyers and sellers have no idea when things will return to normal.
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Reuters reported that PepsiCo refused to comment on issues relating to the supply chain and commodities, while Coca-Cola didn’t respond when contacted for comment.
Dani Haddad of Agrigum said that companies such as PepsiCo and Coke can’t function without gum arabic.
Fawaz Abaro, general manager of Savannah Life Company, in Khartoum’s capital, says he has purchase orders for 60-70 tonnes of gum Arabic but is unsure if he will be able export them due to the conflict.
“It is not stable to even get food or drinks.” The business environment is not stable. “All trading will be halted for the moment.”