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Much At Stake for Coke and Pepsi in Latest Sudan Skirmish
5/1/2013 12:41:11 PM

Young girl harvesting gum arabic

(GIN) – Execs of the some of the most popular soft drinks may be finding it hard to chill this week as fighting in Sudan nears the center of the world’s gum arabic industry – an important ingredient in Coke, Pepsi and other fizzy drinks.
Rebels from Sudan’s Darfur region, seeking to topple President Omar al-Bashir, have been moving steadily towards Khartoum, passing through North Kordofan and its capital, El-Obeid.
Until recently, the road between Khartoum and El-Obeid, heartland of gum arabic, had been blocked by fighting, according to the state-afflilated Sudanese Media Centre.
Gum arabic is used in the manufacture of soft drinks, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Its harvest is expected to grow by 20 percent this year as demand from Asian markets grows. Although figures are hard to come by, Sudan exports somewhere between 40% and 70% of the world’s gum arabic.
Writing in the Daily Maverick, reporter Simon Allison provided background: “Gum arabic is the hardened sap of a specific species of Acacia tree, most of which grow in Sudan. When it’s dried out and ground into a powder it can be used as what’s called an “edibile emulsifier”, which translates as glue we can eat.
“By far its most important use is in fizzy drinks, where gum arabic binds the sugar to the drink; without it, the sugar would just fall out of the solution and collect in a pile at the bottom of the can.”
The most recent data available from Sudan’s central bank show the country earned $81.8 million from gum arabic in 2011, compared with $23.8 million a year earlier.
The commodity’s importance to western markets led the U.S. to exempt it from a trade embargo first imposed on Sudan in 1997 because of the country’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the multi-layered conflict has created 1.4 million displaced people who rely on food handouts.  The African Union this week condemned the armed attacks by rebels in both North and South Kordofan state who destroyed a communications tower and electricity station, and looted civilan property and gas stations.
The rebel attack comes as the Sudanese government and the rebel SPLM-N launch the first round of direct talks – the first since 2011 – in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

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