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Between 2014 and 2017, AFD supported a regional project implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concerning geographical indications in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. A second phase of the project, focusing on Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, has been launched in 2019 to continue this support. The three main points are explained.

1What are geographical indications?

Geographical indications (GIs) identify products that have a specific geographical origin and whose qualities, reputation and characteristics are closely linked to this origin. Over the last ten years, national systems for the protection of GIs in Southeast Asia have seen a spectacular development. With over 150 GIs registered in 2015, the region is one of the most dynamic in this field after the European Union and India

Agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in this region and there are many challenges to ensuring its sustainability. For example, according to FAO, the surface area of farmland increased by almost 40% between 1980 and 2014. At the same time, agriculture has been transformed as a result of population growth, an increasing integration into global markets and the application of the principles of the Green Revolution (improved varieties – chemical fertilizers and pesticides – mechanization), generating major environmental impacts. 

In this context, GIs can be a real tool for rural development. By contributing to protecting and promoting traditional know-how and improving market opportunities, they help increase producers’ incomes and reduce poverty. 
At the same time, they indirectly contribute to biodiversity conservation by improving natural resources management in an area particularly concerned by this issue.

2GIs need support! 

Both the first and second phase of the project will support the various stages of structuring GIs. Firstly from a legislative point of view: countries sometimes do not have a legal framework for the creation of these geographical indications, and especially for the legal protection of this label. Consequently, the project has assisted administrative structures responsible for the development of GIs with this process: for example, this is what has been done in Cambodia, where an implementing decree for the GI law has been prepared and published to allow the registration of Kampong Speu palm sugar.

To support the development of sectors, the project subsequently helped structure the functioning of producers’ associations, so that they have a better understanding of their role and the functioning of the control system, which is essential to ensure the traceability and credibility of GIs. The project supported by AFD has also enabled the creation of the market and the marketing chain, as well as the identification of companies willing to invest in this marketing. For example, a great deal of work has been put into this point in Laos on structuring the coffee sector and registering the Bolaven Plateau Coffee Producers Cooperative (CPC), which has been supported by AFD since 1998

However, even if a GI has already been registered, it is not necessarily known and appropriated by producers. This was the case with Van Yen cinnamon in Vietnam, which was inactive, and Mak Mao berry juice from Sakon Nakhon in Thailand. The project has helped inform and set up promotion activities for the product. 

Regional synergies have also been created, allowing the registration of GIs in other countries: for example, Van Yen cinnamon was registered in Thailand in 2016 and Kampong Speu sugar in Vietnam in December 2016, then in Thailand in March 2017. 

3And after?

Myanmar, which has expressed a strong desire to develop its GIs, will be included in the project in addition to Laos and Cambodia. Thailand and Vietnam, which are now ahead on these issues compared to other countries, are therefore giving up their place. The project will have the same objectives of developing GIs at every stage in countries that are still registering their first GIs or do not yet have any, such as Myanmar. It is the opportunity to soon discover other hidden treasures.

Further reading