Commentary [Volume 7 No. 5 (2007)]

Dr. John Lupien

John R. Lupien

Via Aventina, 30 00153 Rome, Italy. Email:


Africa has vast agricultural and other natural resources. Many of these resources have been exploited so that the resource is destroyed, rather than maintained in a sustainable way. With regard to agriculture and arable land, a particular problem is that of desertification, caused by spreading of desert areas into lands that have been damaged by over-grazing of animals,over-usage of water resources resulting in drought conditions, destruction of forest and tree coverage for cooking fuel, cropping of plants that cause soil erosion and depletion of soil minerals, and other undesirable abuses of land. Many thousands of hectares of previously arable land are lost to spreading deserts in all parts of Africa. The Sahel area, immediately south of the Sahara desert is the most affected area.

In the 2006 issues of the journal Agro Food Industry Volume 17, No. 1 and No. 2, published by Tekno Scienze, Milan, Italy, a two part article entitled “Sustainable Development in Africa for Better Nutrition and Health: Acacia Gum, a Case Study” discusses many aspects of the production and use of acacia trees and acacia gum in sustainable development in semi-arid regions of Africa. Planting, harvesting and caring for acacia trees that produce acacia gum has strong and sustainable benefits in Africa. Trees must be protected from grazing for about five years from the seedling to young tree stages. Trees from five to 15-20 years old are good producers of acacia gum, and also improve soils where they grow. Older trees can be harvested for wood, fuel, or other uses, and replaced with new trees. All of this helps in more sustainable agriculture and development in some environments that have been seriously degraded by desertification, overgrazing, and poor usage of land over many years.

Acacia gum is a product of two species of acacia trees, Acacia senegal L. and Acacia seyal L. that grow in semi-arid conditions such as along the edge of deserts. In Africa there are many different species of acacia trees and bushes. Acacia trees are leguminacea, and as such, fix nitrogen in the soil where they grow. Adding nitrogen to soil enriches it, and makes possible the growth of forage crops, or even vegetables when adequate water is available. Either planted or native acacia trees are crucial elements in stopping the spread of the desert. Planted or native Acacia senegal or Acacia seyal trees also can be used to produce acacia gum (also called gum Arabic), in addition to fixing nitrogen in the soil, stopping desertification, and providing leaves for forage, and wood for various purposes when trees are too old for gum production.

Acacia gum is produced when cuts are made in the trunk or larger branches of acacia trees in appropriate time of the year. The gum is an exudate that oozes from the cuts, dries in the warm dry air, and is harvested as fist-sized dried balls of gum. The gum is a natural product, organic since no chemicals are used in its production, and totally water soluble. The harvested balls of gum are brought to processing facilities where local women sort, clean, and chop the balls into smaller pieces (called kibbling). The pieces are packed for shipping, and exported to processing plants in Europe and elsewhere. Processing does not change the product, but consists on dissolving the gum in water, removing any extraneous material such as sand, and spray drying. The spray-dried product is used in many food processes, and serves as an emulsifier, thickening agent, coating agent, and in other food and non-food applications.

In the Sahel region of Africa just south of the Sahara desert, the production and processing of acacia gum has many benefits. The planting and care of trees is done almost exclusively by adult males, as is the harvesting of gum, the cleaning and kibbling processing is done by local women. In Nigeria alone, over three million people make their living in the semi-arid regions in the north of the country working in various aspects of acacia gum production and processing. In the entire Sahel region from Mauritania and Senegal across Africa to Sudan and Eritrea, many millions of people earn a living from acacia gum production. Providing seedlings and training on growing trees to local populations, including nomadic people, has enabled the establishment of permanent villages and towns, so that schools and health clinics can provide education to children, and health services to all. Since acacia gum is an export product, it brings needed income to all involved in its production and processing, and to national economies.

Acacia gum is a soluble fiber, and is not digested by human digestive enzymes in the mouth, esophagus, stomach or small intestine. In the large intestine it serves as a prebiotic, and is fully fermented by the “good” bacteria resident in the large intestine, particularly the bifido- and lactic acid forming bacteria. In the fermentation process short chain fatty acids are formed, which tend to lower the pH of the large intestine and colon. The fermentation increases greatly the number of bifido- and lactic acid bacteria in the large intestine, which significantly improves bowel function. In addition, fermentable dietary fiber such as acacia gum can help in reducing cholesterol in the body, improve absorption of essential minerals, and can have other beneficial health effects.

For a more detailed discussion of acacia gum and it role in sustainable development, nutrition and health, see the articles referenced below. They can be accessed at the following website: .


  • Meance S. and Lupien J Sustainable Development in Africa for Better Nutrition and Health- Acacia Gum, a case study. Agro Food Industry, Vol. 17 No. 1
  • Meance S. and Lupien J Sustainable Development in Africa for Better Nutrition and Health-Acacia Gum, a case study. Agro Food Industry, Vol. 17, No. 2