Features In focus

Status quo, way forward on geographical indications

NONNY CHILUMBI
Traditional knowledge plays an important role in cultural ecology, including resource management, such as in agricultural techniques of enhancing production of plants and animals and controlling their lives by domestication and fertilization.
Today, however, I will look at another branch of intellectual property which in my opinion has not been given adequate consideration in Zambia. Geographical indications,  in  there  simplest  form,  are  signs  that  recognise  the  link  between  a  product’s reputation,  quality  or  some  other  characteristic  and  its  geographical  origin. Environmental  attributes  and/or  local  knowledge  used  in  the  production  of  these products give rise to unique product characteristics that are signalled through the GI.
The  justification  for  protecting  these  distinctive  sign  results,  as  in  the  case  of trademarks,  is from  the  economics  of  information  and  reputation.
Examples of geographical indications in Zambia are Mongu rice, that is,  Mongu is a geographical location where we find a distinctive or rather special kind of rice (referred to as a product) .
Others include Kawambwa tea, Nakonde rice, Mukwa tree, Kapenta from Siavonga, and many others.
Why does Zambia need a legal framework?
GIs  confer  the  right  of  exclusive  use  to  those producers within  the demarcated  region who  comply with  the  production  practices.
It is a common practice in Zambia to make improvements on a product without recognising the owners of that product. For example, manufacturing companies add ingredients and package Mongu rice without seeking permission from the Barotse Royal Establishment.
If this practice is unmonitored ,the long-term effect is that the original product will subsequently differ from the product on the market.
Improved market access through differentiation and value creation
In a context of increased competition on  commodity  markets,  decreasing  market prices  and  changing  consumer  preferences,  it  has  become  necessary  to  find  an alternative approach to the production and marketing of agri-food products.
Rural development
In line with endogenous development theory, GIs’ ability to give rise to rural development processes derives from its link with the territory.
GIs reflect, by definition, a strong association between a product and its territorial origin in that the product derives its characteristics from the region’s unique environment, including climatic and human factors.
Preservation of traditional knowledge
It is argued that the unique characteristics of GIs make it more appropriate for the protection of traditional knowledge than other forms of IPR
Preservation of biodiversity
Biodiversity preservation is not a direct objective of GI protection. It has been argued, however, that  it  may  in  some  instances  be  an  outcome  of  the  GI  process
37 members, composed of developed and developing countries, have signed proposals advocating GI protection at the WTO to be expanded to agricultural products.
Developing countries  increasingly value  GIs as an instrument contributing to a remunerative marketing of an agricultural production based upon traditional cultivation methods.
Persistent resistance to this extension may therefore communicate an unfortunate message to those countries about the realpolitik of the international intellectual property regime
Registered African GIs in the country of origin:
Both Kenyan coffee and tea are registered in Kenya through certification marks
There is a pending application for a GI on Argan oil from the Souss Massa Dra
region in Morocco
African GIs registered in third countries:
Rwandan coffee – registered by an individual as US trademark number 3378503 for ‘The land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Handpicked in the Republic of Rwanda’
Ethiopian Coffee – registered or in the process of being registered in 28
countries around the world including the EU
Third-world countries’ GIs registered in Africa
“Champagne” appears to have been registered in the 16 African countries that are members of OAPI.
In  conclusion,  it  is  undisputed  that  there  are  significant  benefits  attached  to  GIs. Achieving these dynamics is, however, not a simple process and is dependent on how the process is implemented, protected and exploited.
This requires concerted efforts by the Zambian government, non-governmental organisations, Parliamentarians and producers. Zambia, like other developing countries , should  take note  that  the socio-economic  dynamics  of GIs  should be adequately juxtaposed  and  that  the  impact  of GIs  is  likely  to  vary  from    product  to  product.
The author is  a postgraduate researcher in intellectual property law with the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

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