Arabic Gum: A Green Beacon in the Saharan Expanse

In previous articles, we covered how widely Arabic gum is used and the unusually narrow the supply chain is – with 50% controlled by a single company and 75% going to just two countries.

In this article, we look at the tree that produces the gum – the Acacia Senegal tree and its important part in the environment.

Acacia Senegal Tree – Regions

Acacia Senegal, commonly referred to as the Gum Arabic tree, finds its home primarily in Africa’s Sahel region—a semi-arid belt that extends from Senegal in the west to Sudan and Ethiopia in the east. While the vast majority of the gum comes from Sudan, Chad, and Nigeria produce around 10 to 15% of the world’s supply;  Senegal, around 1%, and Mali produces the lowest amount – less than 9,000 tonnes.

Hardy Tree for Hardy Regions

This hardy species is well-suited for the challenging conditions in countries like Mali, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, as well as parts of the Arabian Peninsula, including Yemen and Oman.

The tree’s ability to flourish in arid environments, sandy soils, savannahs, and grasslands is a testament to its resilience and adaptability.

The Saharan region, with its extreme temperatures, high winds, and scarce rainfall, is among the harshest environments on Earth. However, acacia trees have evolved to withstand these conditions. They play a pivotal role in maintaining soil health and preventing desertification.

The deep roots of these trees stabilize the soil, avoiding erosion and preserving soil fertility. As nitrogen-fixing plants, acacias enrich the soil, fostering the growth of surrounding vegetation and enhancing ecosystem health.

Production of Arabic Gum does not involve the destruction of the trees, hence it is such a bonus for the economy and the environment. It involves “tapping” the tree to remove the sap.


Mali and Arabic Gum

Today, the Acacia  Senegal Tree serves as a key component in Mali’s reforestation and economic resurgence.

With 82% of its forest cover lost since 1960 due to deforestation and climate change, Mali is turning to the Malian Acacia Project to reverse this trend. Thousands of hectares of acacia are being planted to adapt to climate change, retain soil water, and slow desertification.

Until the 1960s Mali produces more than 10,000 tonnes per year, it dropped to just 32 tonnes per years in 1990s due to the decimation of the trade and forest. It has now been steadily climbing again to 2,500 and then 6,000 tonnes in 2016.


Wider Benefits

The gum Arabic trade is not only an environmental boon but also a critical income source for locals, particularly women. Additionally, acacia tree plantations contribute to CO2 sequestration through the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund. As part of the African Union’s Great Green Wall project, Mali is set to plant even more acacia trees, restoring landscapes and joining a transcontinental reforestation initiative.

Moreover, acacia trees offer critical habitats for various animals, including birds, insects, and small mammals, by providing shelter, food, and nesting sites. This, in turn, supports local biodiversity.


In conclusion, the significance of acacia trees in the Saharan region is immense. These trees not only maintain soil health and combat desertification, but they also support biodiversity and provide invaluable resources to local communities, making them a green beacon in the Saharan expanse.