IP in Action: Banana Business in Brazil

December 14, 2018

The Government of Santa Catarina has created innovative regional associations that have paired up with the World Bank, national institutions and universities to leverage intellectual property (IP) to strengthen local products, local tourism, and the development of sustainable cultures. One product that has benefited from these partnerships is the banana from Brazil’s Corupá region.

Protecting a unique origin

Bananas from the Corupá region were strategically selected by the National Service of Support to SMEs (SEBRAE) to be the first regional product to apply for a geographical indication. On August 26, 2018 an appellation of origin was granted – the tenth national appellation in Brazil and the first in the state.

The area covered by this appellation of origin comprises 980 families of producers in the districts of Corupá, Jaraguá do Sul, São Bento do Sul and Schroeder. All have been growing bananas in the region for over 120 years. They all inhabit a mountainous region boasting a subtropical climate, beautiful rivers, hiking trails and 74 catalogued waterfalls.

The Reese family
The Reese family (Photo: ASBANCO / Leonardo de Souza)
The hilly landscape of Corupá
The hilly landscape of Corupá (Photo: ASBANCO / Leonardo Souza)

A banana apart

The particular climate and soil conditions in the area mean that the bananas grown there take longer than usual to mature – 13 months as opposed to 7 months for producers from Ecuador. However, that longer growing period also causes the bananas in the region to be less aesthetically pleasing than others, with dark stains in their peels, but with a higher concentration of natural sugars than other bananas produced in Brazil.

First attempt at protection

The Corupá Association of Banana Producers (ASBANCO) was created in 2004 in order to buy fertilizers in bulk and benefit from associated cost savings.  Beginning in 2006, they started looking into how to reap the benefits of the uniqueness of their product through a collective mark. In the end, however, they decided to go in a different direction.

Marketing pays off

The Association has run several campaigns to promote their product, including on radio programs, through culinary contests, in primary and secondary schools, and by launching the National Day of the Banana.

This awareness raising paid off and in 2012, the National Service of Support to SMEs (SEBRAE) identified the bananas of the region of Corupá as a potential candidate for geographical indication protection and paired with local institutions and universities to run a scoping study. In parallel, the Association continued organizing events aimed at promoting the region and the local product, such as the Bananalama – a meeting of off-road motorbikes that has already been mentioned twice in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The local community greets hikers on the occasion of the Bananalama
The local community greets hikers on the occasion of the Bananalama (Photo: ASBANCO /Leonardo de Souza)

They also started working with local women on the extraction and distribution of the fiber from the banana tree to develop handcrafts, as well as on supporting the production of sweets and condiments made from the local fruits, such as sundried bananas, banana jam and even a ketchup made of banana.

Local women selling handcrafts made of banana tree fiber
Local women selling handcrafts made of banana tree fiber (Photo: ASBANCO / Leonardo de Souza)

Rapid growth

The production of bananas in the region of Corupá currently generates an overall yearly revenue of BRL 50 million (around USD 13.5 million) for local families. In addition, the fame of the local fruit, along with the natural landscapes and local festivities, has been attracting more and more tourism to the region. The city of Corupá has seen the opening of five hotels and seven restaurants in the past few years, and these numbers are expected to grow in a steady manner.

The government of the state of Santa Catarina now expects to see other products apply for geographical indications in the near future including a colonial cheese, wines, apples and tea. 

Many universities in the region offer master’s programs on regional development because they understand the need to foster the development of local regions as a means to boost local economies and avoid some areas ending up deserted whilst others become over-populated. 

The state government believes that one of the keys to this positive outcome is the strategic use of IP, especially GIs and collective marks.

Banana plantation of the Müller family in the region of Corupá
Banana plantation of the Müller family in the region of Corupá (Photo: WIPO/Pimentel)