“Several other countries came in and competed, Chad, Nigeria ...” Mahdi said.
So Sudan’s global market share could have fallen to between 20 percent and 40 percent, though its gum arabic is still first choice among many consumers because of its high quality, she added.
En Nahud is the last town in western Sudan before a traveler reaches the troubled region of Darfur. UN food aid trucks continue their trip to Darfur on dirt tracks only with armed escorts.
Yet while En Nahud may at first glance look as desolate as other small Sudanese towns, with many of its one-story brick buildings built during British colonial rule, it is wealthier because of gum arabic.
A large market attracts hundreds of farmers and traders every day. Shops are well-stocked with foreign food products and restaurants are bustling with people eating meat for breakfast — a luxury for many Sudanese, who have to rely on ful, a staple food made of beans and water.
Gum arabic enriches a range of people on its journey from En Nahud to Port Sudan, where it is transferred to ships. Farmers doing the arduous field work struggle to get their share of the boom.
“There are so many middlemen,” Mahdi said. “They buy at very cheap prices. They put their fat share on it and the government puts its fat share on it in terms of duties and taxes.”
On a tree plantation outside En Nahud, reachable only via unpaved roads lined by thatched houses, village farmer Mohammed Adam says he makes 4,000 pounds a year from his crop.
“We wish we could benefit from gum arabic like the exporters,” Adam said, who belongs to one of 3,000 gum arabic associations in Sudan.
The UN World Food Program and World Bank provide aid to small farmers in Sudan, but the industry faces another problem: a shortage of workers. Many laborers prefer to dig for gold in the desert.
“We need workers for the tapping, but it’s difficult to get them because they search for gold and they are expensive,” Adam said.