Uganda’s rural population still lags behind in the overall trajectory of the country’s development. The National Housing Survey (UNHS) of 206/17 estimates that the 76% of the total population lives in the rural areas and contribute to 89% of Uganda’s poverty level.
This poses serious concern and has been identified as one of the constraints to affect attainment of Uganda’s Vision 2040 of transforming from a peasantry to a modernised industrial economy.
In order to address the conundrum of rural poverty, it calls for a multiplicity of different strategic interventions which must be integrated in Uganda’s poverty reduction programs. Geographical Indications (GIs), a tool of intellectual property, provides viable solutions to extricate the bulk of the rural population from the shackles of abject poverty by raising household incomes.
The Continental Strategy for Geographical Indications in Africa 2018-2023 by the African Union notes, “GIs can be used as a tool for sustainable and rural development, as a result of their locally tailored standard and multifaceted development approach, combining a market dimension (in relation to intellectual property rights [IPRs]) …….” Uganda enacted the Geographical Indications Act, 2013.
In 2018, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs passed the Geographical Indications Regulations to operationalize the Act.
Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) as the National Intellectual Property Office is mandated to administer the GI law and currently is in the process of establishing a GI system.
Geographical Indication means “any indication which identifies goods as originating in a particular country, region or locality where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the goods is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.”
Geographical Indications serve to identify a product as originating from a specific region or locality. This differentiation can be attributed to the unique local features of the product, its history or its distinctive characteristics linked to natural or human factors, such as soil, climate, local expertise and traditions.
Uganda possesses a range of unique products that can qualify as potential GIs, if clearly determined that the qualities, reputation and characteristics are linked to their geographical origin. Some of the potential GI products include, Bugisu Arabica coffee, Mukono vanilla, grasshoppers (Ensenene), Bamboo shoots (malewa) from Bugisu and Shea butter produced in Northern Uganda.
Besides the agricultural products, handcrafts can also be protected by GIs. The indigenous bark cloth – a fabric that has been recognized as a masterpiece of the world’s intangible heritage, has been identified as a potential GI. Most of these products are produced by small holder farmers in rural areas who are vulnerable to price fluctuations and their incomes are still low.
The local producers if collectively organised to take advantage of the GI system, will be in position to sell at higher price margins in both domestic and international markets, and this will translate into higher incomes. GIs can facilitate value addition and branding of the origin-linked products. Evidence shows that use of GI System can increase the price of origin linked products.
In Cameroon, for example, the price of Penja white pepper increased to 130% between the period of 2013–2015 after its registration in 2013 by the Organisation of African Intellectual Property (OAPI). While in Ethiopia, following the government’s initiatives to differentiate the Ethiopians finest coffee variants in the market place by using a range of intellectual property tools, the retail prices improved.
Noting that Yirgacheffe farmers’ income doubled in 2007 in comparison with their income in 2006, with projections that incomes of the producers could reach US $6-8 per kilogram over the years.
Besides better prices for the local producers of GI protected products, there are other benefits that can accrue from the GI system.
GI guarantee quality to the consumers who can then be sure of the qualities of what they are buying, protection of GIs also may contribute to ensuring the survival of traditional local knowledge that would otherwise disappear in face of large-scale agriculture and a tool to promote tourism.
All these essential benefits can both, directly and indirectly, contribute to rural development and in effect reduce poverty.
The GI System has been described as a “sleeping giant” with great potential to contribute to rural development. Implementation of the GI system will certainly help the rural poor who are mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture to raise their household incomes.
Intellectual Property Lawyer