What do my Coke and M&M’S have to do with droughts in Kenya?

In an age when my bananas come from Ecuador and my soap was made in China, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that when I drink a Coke or savor some M&M’S, I’m consuming materials that could have originated in the vast deserts of Northern Kenya … a sticky substance that helps families survive even when their animals die from extreme drought.

Gum arabic — the sap that comes from the Acacia Senegal tree — serves many purposes. It binds ingredients in the creation of delicious treats like gumdrops, marshmallows, soft drinks and those mentioned above. The ancient Egyptians used it in mummification, and it can soothe an upset stomach. 

But more importantly, in Northern Kenya, this substance provides an income for those who otherwise might have none. In Northern and Eastern Kenya, cycles of flooding and drought are a fact of life. But this doesn’t make it any easier to live there. Many pastoral communities rely on their livestock for survival and, for some families, it can take up to 10 years to recoup the losses suffered a severe flood/drought cycle.

FH recognizes this and has built a program to generate income for families struggling to survive during these unforgiving droughts.

Coca-Cola purchases more gum arabic than than any other company in the world, according to Shep Owen, FH’s director over the Africa region. 

This remarkable gum actually is more plentiful during dry seasons, making its harvest ideal for these communities. And sap collection fits easily among one’s regular day-to-day tasks, as it is perfect to do while tending livestock.

FH staff teach techniques for how to collect the most sap from a tree, and they connect  communities with worldwide demand for this unique sap.

In Isiolo, FH helps link the community to markets for selling the sap, and harvesters are trained in good business principles.

With this income, parents can afford to send their children to school and to access health care. It is just one example of how FH partners with communities to find long-term solutions to critical needs.