By Pape-Tahirou Kanouté, Agricultural economist, ETDS, Ziguinchor, Senegal, and
Michele Evangelista, Lisbon Registry, WIPO
Amid the on-going climate crisis, the need to preserve the natural environment has become a focus of growing public concern. Consumers, especially young people, are demanding that governments and the private sector actively commit to implementing strategies and policies that support environmental sustainability.
On top of this, the world’s population is expanding and expected to reach some 9.8 billion by 2050, raising significant challenges in terms of the quantity and quality of food required and the impact of agriculture and food production systems on the environment. Quality products that are rooted in a given geographical area that confers unique characteristics and reputation on them are highly marketable and create value for millions of producers around the world. Producers of such products often protect the brands (consisting of geographical names) of these goods as geographical indications (GIs).
A GI identifies a product that originates from a special geographical locality. The quality, reputation or characteristics of that product are intrinsically linked and essentially attributable to that geographical origin. The strong link that goods branded with geographical indications have with their terroir (or the locality where they are produced) creates an incentive for producers to maintain the integrity of their natural resources. This explains why well-established GIs such as, Grana Padano, Scotch Whisky, and Banano de Costa Rica, have embraced green policies long before the consumers and the public started questioning big companies and brands about the impact of their operations on the natural environment.
Such environmental awareness, however, is not confined to established GIs. Producers of goods with the potential to qualify for GI protection, such as the fruit, Madd de Casamance, are also working to ensure that sustainability considerations are embedded in the independent controls and regulations that govern harvesting practices and production of derivative products.
Madd (or Saba senegalensis) is a wild species of fruit, a berry with a hard, yellow peel that can be found predominantly in the woodlands and certain savannahs of Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The plant is a climbing vine with tendrils that allow it to cling to the trunks and branches of trees in the forest, where it grows wild. Its flowers are very fragrant and white, yellowish or greenish white. The fruits, orange when ripe, are ovoid, measuring up to 10 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide and are full of pulp-coated seeds.
The fruits are rich in carbohydrates and vitamin A, K and C. Eaten fresh, the seeds have a tart flavor and are typically seasoned with sugar, salt or pepper or used as a condiment. The fruits are also used to make juices, syrup and preserves. Madd that grows in the region of Casamance, in the Southern part of Senegal, better known as “Madd de Casamance” is widely reputed in Senegal for its flavor and medicinal properties and has been commercialized with some success by women, in particular, in the cities such as Dakar. It has great potential to become a flagship GI for the region, and the first GI in Africa for a wild product.
From the outset, the local actors in the Madd de Casamance value chain recognized the pivotal importance of preserving the environment in which the fruit grows.
While local actors in Casamance saw the potential of the madd fruit growing in their region to qualify for protection as a GI protection some three years ago, the endeavor took on a more formal character in 2019, when various local and international actors engaged in the process. From the start of the process, a Senegalese non-governmental organization, the Economie Territoires et Développement Services (ETDS), started working with local producers (initially these were mostly women) who were interested in adding value to the goods they produced from the madd fruit growing in Casamance.
ETDS is now working with local producers whom it has assisted in establishing an association, which will be responsible for governing the GI once registered. Various international organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) and national authorities, including the National IP Office of Senegal (Senegalese Agency of Industrial Property and Innovation (ASPIT)) and the national agency for agricultural and rural consulting (ANCAR)) are also supporting the project.
The process of registering Madd de Casamance as a GI has involved local producers working together to develop and implement a quality assurance scheme to ensure the fruits are harvested under specific conditions and meet certain required standards. From the outset, the local actors in the Madd de Casamance value chain recognized the pivotal importance of preserving the environment in which the fruit grows.
The forests in the area of Casamance are under threat from population growth, urban sprawl and unfettered natural resource exploitation of natural resources. Over-exploitation of the forests, fires, drought, and overgrazing have heightened the risks of flooding and erosion, causing the disappearance of many animal species and posing a real threat to Madd de Casamance. In light of this, local producers and others in the value chain of Madd de Casamance have agreed on clear methods of forest exploitation to restore the original forest ecosystem and maintain its integrity. These include the adoption of best practices that balance the need for natural resource exploitation with the need to regenerate the forests where the fruit grows. These best practices will form part of the mandatory requirements (the book of specifications) that each producer will have to respect if they wish to label their products with the GI once it is registered.
A number of these best practices are already producing positive results and are based on certain community-based forest management mechanisms that have been identified and are being capitalized on by ETDS. For example, thanks to the efforts of groups of volunteers to promote better forest management, in 2019, Oussouyé (in Casamance) was the only department in Senegal to record no forest fires. Once the GI has been registered, such practices promise to become more widespread.
These practices are also serving to inspire other communities in region. For example, inhabitants of Dablé, a neighborhood in the village of Thiobon, in the department of Bignona, have established a committee and agreed to only harvest the ditakh (Detarium senegalese) – another wild fruit and an important resource for the local economy – when it is ripe and only at weekends. Anyone who infringes these rules risks having access to the forest barred and any harvested fruit confiscated. They are also employing young people to supervise the forest and guarantee the rules are applied correctly. Similarly, with the support of ETDS, various local associations are working to regenerate the forests in the area around the village of Sindian. ETDS is keen to help them secure the necessary funding to support other reforestation activities in the region.
The process of protecting Madd de Casamance as a GI started in 2017, when a first study was undertaken to assess its potential as a GI and the level of interest among local producers to engage in the GI registration process. Presented at a regional seminar on GIs in West Africa, organized by FAO and WIPO, in collaboration with OAPI and ASPIT, in November 2017, the study recognized the reputation and specific characteristics of the fresh fruit and its derivative products. It also identified other critical factors relating to its ability to qualify as a GI, such as the delimitation of the geographical area of production and the traceability of products identified by the GI and its potential to have a positive impact on the development of the natural region of Casamance, as promoted by Decentralization Act III in Senegal. (The overall objective of Act III is to organize Senegal into viable, competitive and sustainable development territories by 2022.).
Local producers confirmed their interest in registering the GI registration and with the support of ASPIT, FAO and WIPO, in 2019 they launched a pilot project for the development and registration of Madd de Casamance as a GI.
Madd de Casamance is an interesting example of how GIs can support the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability and the transition to a green future.
At the end of November 2019, all local actors (pickers, processors (transformatrices), distributors) established an association of producers responsible for protecting and promoting the Madd de Casamance GI. The association, Association pour la Protection et la Promotion de l’Indication Géographique Madd de Casamance (APPIGMAC), brings together all those engaged in the harvest, production and distribution of the Madd de Casamance, enabling them to exchange ideas and agree on common strategies for the management of the GI value chain. Their hope is to complete registration process in 2020.
Madd de Casamance is an interesting example of how GIs can support the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability and the transition to a green future. To maintain the reputation and characteristics of quality goods originating from a given area producers need to recognize the importance of effectively managing the resources that shape the very qualities of their products, especially when it comes to natural and agricultural products and foodstuffs. This is not just a moral obligation toward the environment; it is a matter of economic self-interest. Sustainable production of these goods, and indeed the social and economic well-being of the communities responsible for producing them, hinges on effective and sustainable land and natural resource management practices.
GIs have the potential to support efforts to scale-up environmentally sustainable practices, which might otherwise be more difficult to achieve with individual companies.
Moreover, economic actors in GI value chains, producers, processors and distributers – are used to independent audits, such as production/product quality audits. Unlike many other products, GI-protected products are subject to regular controls to ensure that their associated qualities are delivered to consumers. As such, adapting GI-recognized products to sustainability audits may be relatively easy.
And finally, as a collective endeavor – GI certification involves many actors within a given value chain – GIs have the potential to support efforts to scale-up environmentally sustainable practices, which might otherwise be more difficult to achieve with individual companies. In this way, GIs have significant potential to respond to the sustainability challenges, and environmental concerns of our time.
Similarly, GIs can be instrumental in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to climate change, environmental degradation, and good health. GIs support rural development, food safety, export promotion, and local tourism.
In many instances, such as in the cheese, wine, coffee and olive oil industries, GI producers favor traditional cultivation techniques that are more respectful of the environment over the use chemicals that may diminish food quality or harm the ability to cultivate their land. The intrinsic characteristics of GIs – in particular their link with a locality and collective management – can give rise to a virtuous cycle whereby producers recognize and pay attention to the need to effectively manage and maintain their natural environment, and its specificities, which define the quality and characteristics of their products. As such, GIs have an important role to play in achieving sustainable natural resource management.