NAIROBI, Kenya- Scientists on Friday, urged governments in the east African region, to promote large scale growing of Gum Arabic tree, as a means to reduce forest degradation.

Speaking in Nairobi, during a workshop on the development of a regional policy and strategy, the scientists said, governments should promote growing of this tree species, by supporting communities to produce and sell the products, as they protect the forests.

"The growing and protection of trees with value, like Gum Arabic, that is a key ingredient in food and pharmaceutical industry globally, is capable of making regional countries meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) and improve national forest cover as well," Edward Kilawe, UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Forestry Officer for Eastern and Southern Africa sub-region, said, in Nairobi.

He said, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) member countries, have the potential of growing the tree and benefit from it.

Kilawe however called on governments, to ensure that communities are not exploited by middlemen, by ensuring that value addition is done at the harvesting stage as opposed to selling raw products.

"Forests provide huge opportunity for fighting food insecurity and creating job opportunities for populations," Patrick Kormawa, FAO Representative to the African Union (AU) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said.

Kormawa noted that alongside agriculture, forestry is capable of generating revenue, as well as, improving the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the countries in the sub-region.

He noted that the sub-region is known to suffer from adverse impacts of climate change, but with the massive introduction of gum Arabic tree, the effects could be managed.

Mohamud Ismail, the Technical Adviser to the Somali Directorate of Environment, said that, gum Arabic does not require a lot of water to thrive. He said that, before the Somali government collapsed in early 1990's, gum Arabic was second to livestock, in generating GDP for the Horn of Africa State.

"Our farmers sell the products to buyers from Dubai, Yemen and Oman who prefer Frankincense, Myrr and Opoponax that are harvested from Acacia," said Ismail.

According to Abdelhai Shariff, Head of Planning and Policy at the Sudanese Forest National Corporation, Gum Arabic, also known as acacia gum, is a natural gum consisting of the hardened sap of various species of the acacia tree.

He said, Sudan produces over 80 percent of the product from the central region of the country, due to the government's involvement in the whole value chain.

"We have organised producers into associations (GAMAS), and to date we have some 3,000 associations where members, including women play equal role," Shariff noted.

Shariff revealed that through GAMAS, they are capable of accessing loaning facilities that have helped improve their livelihoods.

"This approach has helped the country earn lots of revenue from the products, as well as, keep the forest cover growing," he added.

"The region has a high potential of producing Gum Arabic. Emphasis should be put in all IGAD member countries, to adopt the tree due to its potential," he added.


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