As an increasing number of pastoralists in northern Kenya continue to venture in gum Arabic trade as source of livelihood, lack of a legal framework to protect them continues to threaten the promising business.
Farmers have blamed the lack of policies for the continued exploitation by middlemen who buy their products at cheap prices only to later sell them at huge profits.
More worrying are rogue individuals from other countries masquerading as farmers’ officials, whom the dealers say are seeking donor support in the guise of being consultants and specialists and then diverting the resources elsewhere.
This, the farmers say, exposes them to sufferings despite donors providing funds for training them on how to process the gum Arabic and for value addition so that it fetches better prices.
Led by Abdi Somo, the farmers have appealed to the government to come up with a legal framework to guide the business and protect them from brokers in order to enable them maximally benefit from the venture and comfortably provide for their families.
Consult farmers’ officials
Mr Somo also appealed to donors to consult farmers’ officials and regional offices before disbursing funds so that the process is fair and transparent.
“We laud the donors for the support but want transparency so that rogue people do not benefit from the funds and use them for unintended purposes,” said Mr Somo.
A kilo of gum Arabic is currently fetching between Sh500 and Sh1,000, with between three to seven kilos being harvested from each tree.
Gum Arabic is the hardened sap collected from naturally occurring extrusions on barks of trees used in among others, the food and beverage industry as a stabiliser or thickener.
Another farmer, Hussein Boru, appealed to the government to train them on processing and packaging of the products so that they can produce large quantities to meet the local demand.
The venture promotes sustainable agriculture, combats desertification and helps mitigate climate change.
Farmers from Isiolo, Wajir and Mandera, among other northern Kenya counties, have been exporting crude gum Arabic at low prices. Kenyans re-import the processed gum at higher prices to meet local demand.
“If granted support, the venture will help secure rural livelihoods and economically empower vulnerable groups such as women,” said Mr Boru.
Mr Somo, of Inter-Africa Investment Group dealing with non-timber products in northern Kenya, said the government only needs to tell residents to start collecting the gum and offer a reliable market and the issue felling of trees will be no more.
“Gum Arabic farming is the solution to charcoal burning and a way to conserve the environment and ensure our livestock do not starve due to lack of pasture,” he said.