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Natural Gum Manufacturing Process

Harvesting of natural gums, including frankincense, is believed to have a long history. In Ethiopia, harvesting of natural gums is done manually by labor-intensive traditional methods of tapping. Tapping and collection of frankincense is carried out following a specific pattern around mid-September up to the offset of the dry season, usually June. The technique of tapping usually involves the shaving of a very thin, i.e. 2 mm deep and 4-8 mm wide, external circular layer of the bark starting at 0.5 m from the base of the stem using a hand tool, locally known as 'Mingaf'.

Once the first tapping is done, the second tapping will take place after 30-40 days, and involves a moderate widening of the wound, which will be started during the first tapping. This tapping process will continue for three to four months until the wound has reached 4 cm in width. Usually three such tapping spots are made on each side of the plant, but they could also be four in some cases. Thus, six to eight tapping spots are made as a whole on each plant depending on its size. After each wounding/incision, the exudate starts to ooze and becomes dry in two to three weeks when it will be ready for collection. The wound is renewed immediately while collecting the gum to prevent the hole through which the exudate comes out from drying. The whole process is repeated at intervals of two to three weeks until the onset of the rainy season.

The collection of gum olibanum is normally stopped during the first week of June since the plant starts producing leaves, which enable it to start the process of photosynthesis. During this period (October-June), one taper collects, on the average, 13 quintals, and an average of 500 g of frankincense is obtained from individual trees per tree per season. The harvested resin is first stored in temporary stores established at the harvesting sites. Later on, it is transported to permanent stores for processing. Processing of the resin involves the manual cleaning, sorting and grading of the raw product, which is usually done by women. Accordingly, the collected gum is sorted into five grades on the bases of size, color and brightness. The final products are, then, sold in international markets (the first 2 quality grades) and the least qualities for domestic use, which will be used in coffee ceremonies, churches, etc.

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