Training and Microcredit Breaking the Poverty Cycle in Sudan’s “Gum Belt”

Oct 1, 2011

Syracuse, NY (October 1, 2011) The Near East Foundation (NEF) is helping farmers break the poverty cycle, fight climate change, and conserve natural resources through an innovative project that is building sustainability in Sudan’s “Gum Belt.”

Gum arabic farming provides income for 1 in 5 people in Sudan. In its first year, the NEF project had a significant impact in pilot villages where producer income increased by 25 percent, and woodland cover expanded by 50 percent through new community-based conservation initiatives.  The work is made possible through support from the Flora Family Foundation.

Hosna Abker, 34, is a farmer in Abu Hamra, a village in the Um Ruwaba area of North Kordofan. She is one of 6 million Sudanese who cultivate gum arabic—tapping trees to produce marketable gum, a key ingredient used worldwide in products such as soft drinks and pharmaceuticals.

Like many in her poverty-stricken rural area, Hosna struggled to find fuel for cooking and the resources to feed her family of eight.

Over the past year, she and over 400 other gum producers have received life-changing training. Their new, efficient harvesting methods are producing a higher volume and quality of gum, which translates into more income.

Many participants also benefited from the project’s microcredit funds, which give producers loans to obtain the supplies they need to grow their business.

“Before the trainings, I did not care about gum arabic trees,” Hosna said. “I cut the trees for wood. I used very bad tools for tapping. I stored the gum in plastic bags, which changed its color, smell, and shape—and reduced the market price.”

Through the trainings, she and others have also learned about the environmental importance of the acacia tree forests that are the source of gum arabic. Current harvesting techniques have significant, negative environmental impacts that threaten the long-term health of the forests, which are a key in the fight against climate change.

With her new knowledge and resources, Hosna’s outlook for the future has become more hopeful. She no longer cuts gum arabic trees for fuel, instead she uses a butane gas cooker purchased with a project grant. The cooker lasts for several months, and allows her a number of extra hours each day – time she previously spent collecting wood. The quality of life is improving for Hosna and her family, and for the other project participants who are able to spend more time with her children, and more time on income generating activities.

NEF is currently preparing to expand its successful pilot to benefit more people in other North Kordofan villages, and additional regions of Sudan.

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The Near East Foundation is a U.S.-based international development NGO leading innovative social and economic change in the Middle East and Africa. Founded in 1915, NEF has worked to empower citizens in disadvantaged, vulnerable communities for almost 100 years. NEF field staff – all of them from the countries in which they work – partner with local organizations to find grassroots solutions to their development challenges. Our comprehensive “knowledge, voice, and enterprise” approach is helping build more prosperous, inclusive communities throughout the region.

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