The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Ministry of Primary Industries and Social Empowerment of Sri Lanka have launched a project aiming to establish a national system for Geographical Indications (GIs).
GIs help consumers identify food and other products originating in a particular geographical location, which have unique characteristics, qualities or reputation linked to that location. Well-known GIs include Champagne, from the Champagne region of France, Kampot pepper from Kampot, Cambodia, and Pinggu peaches from the Pinggu district near Beijing, China.
Asia is the world’s most dynamic region for GI development, only after Europe. “Up to date, Asian countries have registered well over 10 000 GI products, predominantly from the food and agricultural sectors” – said Eva Gálvez, FAO’s Agribusiness Officer from the Regional Office of FAO for Asia and the Pacific.
She added that, “As the food industry gears towards globalization, consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for quality food products that have some unique traits that set them apart from the pack. The Doi Chaang coffee, for instance, it is not your regular cup of coffee, but an Arabica blend with an exquisite flavour and aroma that is carefully picked by women wearing traditional dresses in the mist-shrouded mountains of northern Thailand. This is part of the appeal of GIs: they bring together superior quality that consumers can rely on, along with the preservation of biodiversity and traditional landscapes, local heritage, and production methods passed down through generations. This reputation translates into prices 20% to 50% higher than comparable non-GI products.”
FAO says the time has come for Sri Lanka to develop a national GI registration-based system in order to realize value from its reputation as the island of a thousand spices, aromas and culinary tradition.
Many Sri Lankan products beyond the well-known Ceylon tea and cinnamon have potential to be protected by GIs, including pepper, coffee and sapphires, to name just a few. This will require “leadership and openness to collaboration, not only across ministries, but also with the private sector and producer groups”, in words of Daya Gamage, Minister of Primary Industries and Social Empowerment. He went on to highlight the increasing importance of GIs in bilateral trade negotiations and the need for raising awareness about GIs among Sri Lankan consumers, farmers and agribusinesses.
The project intends to address gaps in the legal framework for GIs in the country and build the capacities of public authorities responsible for GI registration, control and certification in order to protect names of products with GIs. In parallel, it will provide technical assistance and mentoring to two priority food value chains still to be defined so they can register their products. Finally it will help set up a Working Group on GI to clarify the roles and mandates of the different stakeholders involved, and launch a national GI strategy for the medium- and long-term.