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Earnings from yam exports could hit $78m using Geographical Indications

BY: Courage Besah-Adanu, PhD
Ghana can earn more in yam if industrial property rights protection is explored
Ghana can earn more in yam if industrial property rights protection is explored

Revenue generation and sources of development funding are the most topical issues currently dominating public discourses in the country.

Various development stakeholders are, therefore, required to assist policymakers in search of innovative solutions to the nation's economic and financial heartaches.

It is against this background that those working in the Industrial Property Right (IPR) protection space wish to uncover some low-hanging revenue fruits that the nation could innovatively harvest.

Geographical Indications

Geographical Indications (GIs) are signs used on products from a particular geographical origin with specific qualities or a reputation that are essentially attributed to the place of origin.

This form of intellectual property protects the uniqueness, reputation and other characteristics that easily differentiate a product from other similar ones on the market.

The GIs largely protect food and non-food products, especially of rural origin. The GIs increase revenues for local producers and satisfy the needs of conscious and demanding customers.

The system facilitates the originality of producers and improves the quality of production using various branding tools in the form of origin labelling and Collective Trademarks.

Over 3,400 GI products have been registered within the EU, 320 in India and about 2,533 in China. Africa largely has potential products for instance, in Cameroun, Ethiopia, Morocco, Mozambique and Guinea, with few registered as GI products.

A worldwide study in 2018 on the economic impact of GIs showed that on the average, prices doubled (in some cases tripled) for products compared with similar products that are not GI registered.

French GI cheeses are sold at an average of two euros per kilo more than French non-GI cheeses. French “Poulet de Bresse” (a type of chicken) has a market price four times higher than regular French chicken.

Producers of Italian “Tuscano” olive oil have managed to increase prices for their olive oil by 20 per cent since it was registered as a GI in 1998.

In other instances, the case of a traditionally not-export-oriented country like Spain is striking: in 1991 (five years after accession to the EU), exports of GI products amounted to 443 million euros and in 1999 more than 1.0 billion euros.

Unique case of pona

The yam crop (Dioscorea spp.) is an important crop generating income for over 60 million people.

Nigeria and Ghana are the leading producers in the world. Global yam production increased from 15.3 million tonnes in 1971 to 74.8 million tonnes in 2020.

Ghana produces about eight million tonnes of yam annually. The country’s yam production has increased significantly over the period. In 2018 and 2019, production was about 7,858,209 and 8,288,198 metric tonnes compared with previous years.

Yams from Ghana are mainly exported to the United Kingdom, South Africa, Italy and the United States.

The main varieties exported include: #1. Pona, #2. Larebako, #3. Asana, #4. Dente and #5. Muchumudu.

Although Nigeria produces high volumes of yam (over 70 per cent of global production), Ghana exports more yam in the sub-region.

There is continuous demand for fresh yam produce from West Africa in Europe, North America and in some parts of Asia.

Global exports of Yam were valued at US$177M. As the lead exporter of Yam, Ghana has a world share of 22.1 per cent with our export value to the global markets as at 2019 standing at US$39.1M.

Unique character

The unique characteristics of a product is critical in building a successful GI system.

The exportable varieties of Ghanaian yams mentioned above are noted to be of high quality in both domestic and export markets, with the “Pona” variety mostly preferred due to its unique taste, the texture, and colour of flesh after cooking.

The characteristic taste is most preferred. Others include the origin, (which is Ghana) and the size of the tuber as same sizes are carefully selected for the export market. These features form the “specific product quality”, which is key for a successful GI or origin product.

The annual value of agri-food products protected as GIs within the European Union stands at €27.34 billion.

Ghana can earn more than twice the current export value in foreign exchange from export of yam annually. The current export value of yam is about US$39.1million.

The country could earn twice this current value for the same export volumes at same price if the Yams were protected with GIs. Having an origin label would augment prices on the global market at over $78M.

It is highly projected that this figure would increase as the countries of export may drastically increase through the current arrangement within the international corridors of trade between Ghana and her partners within the intellectual property structures for origin labelling.

The Industrial Property Office of the Registrar General’s Department has the overall mandate to identify, develop, register and protect origin labelled products for Ghana.

With the current existing legal environment, Ghana must, as a matter of urgency, support the relevant agencies of state to harness this great opportunity to benefit the nation.

This will help to improve her food systems, while creating lots of decent jobs and employment for the teaming youth.

The writer is an Intellectual Property Expert and a Consultant at the Ghana Industrial Property Office, Registrar General’s Department, Accra
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