A geographical indication label on a food product conveys information about the food’s quality, reputation or unique characteristics linked to its origin. Since these labels help guide consumers in their food choices, and help farmers and producers of traditionally produced products market those products, a well-functioning geographical indication scheme benefits everyone.
Yet in many countries across Europe and Central Asia, awareness of geographical indication systems – and knowledge of how to manage them – is lacking. To help bridge the knowledge gap, FAO currently is providing technical advice to Albania, Armenia, Croatia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Moldova, and Tajikistan.
A two-day FAO technical consultation starting today in Budapest is part of the multi-country project. Participants from Hungary, Poland and the Russian Federation are joining representatives of the above-named countries, for an event that aims to take stock, identify gaps, share experiences, and pass on knowledge.
“In recent years, geographical indication labels have become an element of national food quality and export promotion policies,” said FAO policy officer Dmitry Zvyagintsev.
FAO food system economist Emilie Vandecandelaere added that “governments are recognizing this as a potential tool for rural development and to develop sustainable regional and local food systems.”
According to the experts, managing a geographical indications value chain takes collective action – on things like conformity, traceability, and product marketing. When it works well, it empowers producers to incorporate technical or management innovations for continuous improvement and sustainable development of the system.
A geographical indication, which is a collective intellectual property right, should be legally protected. But obtaining that legal protection is only the first step in a long journey to a profitable and sustainable system for everyone involved, Zvyagintsev said.
Recently, FAO has reviewed existing legal and institutional frameworks in the region for geographical indication food products, and assessed the implementation of several more advanced schemes in three European Union countries. The results will enrich this week’s discussions and help participants generate ideas for their own countries.
On a day-long study tour to Eastern Hungary tomorrow, the group of 30 will learn about the Eger wine region and its remarkable agricultural products, including the Szomolya short-stemmed black cherry.
Products that bear a geographical origin label are a unique amalgamation of local natural resources (climate, soil, animal breeds, plant varieties, and traditional equipment, to name a few) and traditional local know-how, handed down through the generations.
“It is in a country’s interest to preserve as part of its national heritage a unique production method or food product specific to a territory,” Zvyagintsev said. “And the effort brings direct, tangible benefits to rural communities that produce, process and market the product.”
Outcomes of the consultation, and recommendations for joint activities in the region, will be presented at the FAO’s Regional Conference for Europe, set to take place in May 2018.