Kochi: Five commodities are set to get the geographical indication (GI) status from the government.
Nilgiris tea, Assam orthodox tea, monsoon Malabar coffee, Tellicherry pepper and Aleppey green cardamom will soon join Darjeeling Tea and Kangra Tea as commodities that have this status.
The GI status gives a commodity a unique identity and recognition to products bearing quality, reputation and special characteristics of a particular geography.
“Various trade promotion commodity boards have moved the government seeking the GI status for these commodities and they will be given the status during the year,” said minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh.
Under the World Trade Organization (WTO), a GI recognition will give the produce legal status globally, potentially helping check unfair business practices and prevent unauthorized claims.
Often, obtaining such a status also helps the growers as they will be assured of a better price for products that are globally accepted as unique.
To comply with India’s obligations under WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, the country put in place the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 2003.
According to officials of the different boards for coffee, tea and spices, who have applied for the status with the Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai, the process for getting GI status is a long one.
First, one needs to ensure that these products are pure and there is no adulteration. At the next stage, other countries which import these commodities and related products must sign on through a legal mandate. This is essential because the products must be accepted under various trademark or GI laws in those countries. Only after acceptance from these countries will the commodities get the GI status. “The process is on and hopefully, these products will get the status before the end of 2007,” the minister said.
According to Coffee Board chairman G.V. Krishna Rau, the unique processing of monsoon Malabar coffee, for instance, started during World War I, when Indian coffee was shipped to the British army in Europe. The coffee beans reached their destinations after months during which sea winds gave them a yellowish tinge. Today, the coffee beans are kept in godowns open to the sea breeze to act on or cure them for at least six months, mainly in Mangalore. It’s only after that the beans, meant for the European market, are processed, says N.R. Pai of Aspinwall, a Kochi-based monsoon Malabar coffee trading firm.
Compared with the annual coffee exports of around 243,000 tonnes, exports of monsoon Malabar coffee is just around 10,000 tonnes.
Pepper, one of the oldest traded spices in the world, has found historical references from 410 AD when it was used to pay taxes. Even the historical text Pliny the Elder’s Natural History tells about pepper prices in Rome during 77 AD, notes Spices Board marketing director S. Kannan.
Tellicherry pepper is grown exclusively in Thalassery and other northern parts of Kerala. Its corns are larger than the typical black pepper corns, with dark brown colour. It is very aromatic and pungent, and the most complex, balanced and elegant of peppers. This variety accounts for only a minuscule portion of India’s pepper production of around 50,000 tonnes.
According to Kannan, the Alleppey green cardamom is the traditional grade that is internationally accepted. The size, colour and chemical constituents of this grade of cardamom, with a high oil content, set it apart. The identity of this brand is interwoven with the geographical name Alleppey, the coastal district in Kerala.
In the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin, cardamom had been a monopoly of the respective rulers. The rulers of the then Travancore kingdom made it compulsory that all the produce be sold to the government, which stored them in the main depot in Alleppey, the most important port of Travancore. The best quality Alleppey green cardamom, which has all along been reserved for exports, accounts for a majority of India’s cardamom production of around 11,000 tonnes.
Nilgiris tea has several attributes of flavour, prompting the Tea Board to file papers for registration, says tea board chairman Basudev Banerjee. The registration has been sought for the orthodox variety of tea grown in the hilly Nilgiris district, with its elevation that gives it a unique flavour. Jebac Kumar, chairman of the Nilgiris Planters Association, says that while the total production of tea in the area is around 135 million kg, the higher quality orthodox variety will be around 10 million kg. Of this, around 70% is exported. The fragrance and flavour of these teas have been compared with some of the renowned Darjeeling teas. The orthodox variety grown in Assam with unique attributes is also in the list for GI status, says Banerjee.