GI’s potential to open market access for rural communities

Rural communities possess indigenous agricultural products that could augment the number of South Africa geographical indications (GI’s).

This was according to senior agricultural economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) Dr Moses Lubinga who said rural communities stood a good chance in promoting their produce through GI’s.

“The unique attributes including soil type, climatic conditions and the indigenous knowledge render a great opportunity through which a given rural community can identify itself from the rest of the world to produce high-quality products that command premium prices in international markets.”

South Africa’s had few protected geographical indication (GI’s) specifically in wines, rooibos tea, Karoo Lamb and Honey Bush tea. Moreover, according to Lubinga, these products were only protected within the European Union (EU).

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said its 2017 international survey on GI indicated that rural communities (family farmers) supplied 80% of the overall food produced in developing countries and by using GI as a marketing tool, economic returns could be realised.

“They can play a key role in strengthening the sustainability of local and global food systems if they are empowered to preserve and promote their local resources and granted better market access for quality food products that are linked to their place of origin.”

GI’s are protected by intellectual property rights (IPR) and registered in South Africa through the Agricultural Products Standards Act, 1990 (Act No. 119 of 1990). More specifically, they are used on goods that have a ‘specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.’

The Executive Officer representing the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) is responsible for registering agricultural GI’s and keeping a register to the effect, as empowered by the Act.

But what are the benefits of attaining a GI?

GIs are a system of certification and labelling a product in order to differentiate it from others, and highlight the added value of their ‘unique local features, history or distinctive characteristics.’

According to the FAO, a successful GI could prevent the “delocalization of production, create jobs, boost local development and contribute to safe, diversified and healthy diets, thanks to the preservation of traditional food products, environment and biodiversity.”

Lubinga was concerned about South Africa’s comfort to rely on the EU and not securing more protected GI’s in the agricultural sector.

“The recent move by the Council of the EU to adopt a decision to sign a stand-alone GIs agreement between the European Union and the government of the People’s Republic of China, in which a consideration was taken to extend the scope of GIs to about 200 products (including a number of fruits and vegetable products), is bound to increase the competition faced by South Africa’s primary agricultural products, especially fruits in the EU when the agreement enters into force.”

In 2017, the African Union (AU) adopted a Continental Strategy for GIs which aimed to preserve and promote traditional products in local markets and position them in international markets.

Compared to other AU member states, Senegal was making inroads with its rural farmers, with its indigenous forest fruit leaves Madd (Saba senegalensis) registered as a GI and now internationally recognised.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said the Madd de Casamance was registered as a GI in 2019. As a pilot project, it involved all the local actors in the village (pickers, processors (transformatrices), distributors), who then established an association of producers responsible for protecting and promoting the Madd de Casamance GI.

Furthermore, WIPO said since its registration as a GI, the Casamance region in Senegal where the leaf originates, was slowly attracting local and international tourists.

Lubinga believed South Africa should adopt a similar drive and strategy for rural communities, as it could improve the country’s footprint.

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