South Africa makes progress on geographical indications to support rural, agricultural development

South Africa is making progress on developing legal and regulatory frameworks for geographical indications (GI), which are designations for products that are linked to a region of origin and that have associated qualities.

GI has been proven to enable producers to secure better prices for products and helps to ensure fair value is attained by producers and workers, a European Union (EU) and South Africa workshop on GI held by industry organisation the Agricultural Business Council (Agbiz) on April 20 heard.

GI protects products and helps to ensure that local value creation and addition can be sustainably protected. It is especially beneficial in supporting rural and agricultural development in areas that have GI products.

GI helps to improve the investment potential of regions and helps to ensure fair distribution of value along the supply chain, especially for primary producers, said European Commission agriculture and rural development directorate-general international affairs and trade negotiations director John Clarke.

“GI is an excellent example of policy tools that can contribute to the improvement of societies and it is an important instrument for development and job creation in regions and communities where GI products are produced,” he noted.

Particularly welcome is that economic benefits through GI are fairly distributed to stakeholders along the supply chain, particularly farmers and primary producers. An important dimension of GI’s success is in stimulating rural development and the farming sector, Clarke highlighted.

“The EU wants to engage with South Africa on many topics in the agriculture and food space and wants to help develop a holistic food system approach in South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc of countries and develop more sustainable food value chains.

“The EU is moving ahead with an ambitious farm-to-fork strategy aimed at creating a more fair, healthy and environment-friendly food system. This food system recognises the pivotal role of GI to strengthen the role of farmers in the food supply chain. The European Commission will continue to share its experiences under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) [signed in 2016 between SADC and the EU] and work on a global level in preparation for the United Nations Food Summit to be held towards the end of the year,” said Clarke.

GI is of particular interest to the agricultural sector, as it requires producers to collaborate and establish quality and production controls, and helps them to secure more bargaining power and a better position in the market for their products, said European Commission agriculture and rural development directorate-general GI unit head Francis Fay.

“The farm-to-fork food system aims to deliver greater sustainability in all aspects of agriculture, not only in GI products. A good example is the South African wine sector, and almost all [local] wine producers adhere to sustainability objectives as an additional requirement,” he pointed out.

French Ministry of Food and Agriculture big cultures unit head Olivia le Lamer concurred, noting that GI is about recognising and valuing the specific identity of agricultural products, which provides several benefits.

“GI fosters sustainability and sustainability pertains to the high-level, multi-faceted performance of producers, helping them to remain competitive and resilient, as well as supporting environment-friendly production, positive economic benefits and community cohesiveness.”

This also helps to ensure sustainable profitability and fair distribution of value. GI products, according to research, consistently command higher prices than equivalent non-GI products and consumers appreciate the quality and traditions of GI products and they trust the products, she said.

“Promoting GI can be a significant tool for rural development programmes. A well-designed GI policy can prevent extreme polarisation between urbanisation and rural areas being abandoned by boosting the value of agricultural products and those involved in producing them are more likely to earn a decent living from farm income,” she added.

South Africa can learn from the implementation of GI frameworks and controls in the EU and the workshop was aimed at promoting best practices to be shared and for South Africa’s legal and trade specialists to learn from their EU counterparts, said Agbiz CEO John Purchase.

“There is more work that needs to be done in South Africa on GIs, and we need to build collaboration to create more GI designations in South Africa and benefit local producers,” he stated.