Monday 20 January 2014


Drumming up support for geographical indications (GIs) across Africa: The EU Commission gets to work

In 2012, Afro-IP brought you the news that the European Commission and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the protection of traditional agricultural products from specific geographical locations or with specific characteristics. Both entities agreed to work together in promoting geographical indications (GIs), including building a legal framework for GIs - under which Africans would have to protect European GIs.

Today, this Leo has just learned of a joint conference organised by the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) in association with others including, not surprisingly, WIPO, EU and ARIPO. The conference, as reported, was set up to rally African countries to (obviously) "...embrace IP and particularly GI’s so as to fully benefit from the marketing on the international scene items that are unique to Africa such as agricultural produce..."

“...Agriculture is one of the areas where Africa has comparative advantage and we could brand our products after value addition and tap on the benefits,” Fernando Dos Santos said. (Well, Afro Leo understands that the African continent is home to 60% of the world's uncultivated arable land; so there lies opportunities)

What are African countries doing to protect certain valuable and unique agricultural produce and products? Are they now waking up? Like fellow blogger, Jeremy, said in the 2012 post, the EU has a significant stockpile of GIs which are well-managed. EU GIs are worth about  54 billion Euros worldwide and their holders would obviously love to further protect their rights across the world and it is the job of the EU Commission to spearhead this mission.

Rooibos is a perfect example of how African countries typically may have taken eyes off their valuable resources (South Africa's wine industry not so much so as it has its eyes on the ball). Even more worrying is what could happen to producers or businesses in African countries when the EU come knocking with its own GIs. A notable African country which has taken the pains to commercialise its produce is Ethiopia (see here and here) - albeit not using the GI framework. This Leo also found out that Morocco has a few GIs lined up for protection within the EU including the widely publicised GI, Argane oil.

The EU has, helpfully, cited a few potential agricultural products from the African continent which could be protected by GIs. Most African countries do have legislation which allow for GI protection in various forms but management costs may well hamper efforts. This Leo is not too cynical about this development as the EU has a long historical experience in GIs and perfectly suited to advise others on the system. (Afro Leo tells me: 'EU GI holders see the system as an effective regime for protection and wish to advance it outside the EU')


  • To learn more on EU GI sensitisation programmes with African countries, see here
  • A good textbook for those interested in research in this area: Extending the Protection of Geographical Indications: Case Studies of Agricultural Products in Africa by Michael Blakeney, Thierry Coulet, Getachew Alemu Mengistie and Marcelin Tonye Mahop (Routledge, 2013)
  • For a primer on GIs and AO, see here and EU manual on GIs, is here
  • Africa Union Commission and the EU Commission to work together on food and farming research, see here but EU-Africa trade deal about to stall, here
  • Euro experts to help find African minerals, see here
  • Colombian Coffee Protection: The Growers' Experience, see here



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Write comments
21 January 2014 at 10:40 delete

"The EU has, helpfully, cited a few potential agricultural products from the African continent."
Looking at the part of the list devoted to Kenya, I see roses, tea and coffee. So those would represent commercially valuable, genetic resources we have ruthlessly plundered from China (tea and roses) and from Yemen or Ethiopia (coffee) :-)

24 January 2014 at 14:39 delete

Charles, thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)