What is Geographical Indication?
You probably already know what a geographical indication (GI) is.
The Darjeeling in Darjeeling tea, the Columbian in Columbian coffee, the Cashmere in Cashmere (Kashmir) Pashmina, are all indicative of the places - or the geography - where these products originated.
"A geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin."
Why does geography of product origin matter?
When products carry certain characteristics, qualities and/or reputation because of the region in which they were made, geographic origin plays a central role. Take the example of Cashmere - one way of spelling Kashmir, the northern most province of India.
Cashmere fiber comes from the soft undercoat of the indigenous goats inhabiting the hilly, Himalayan region of Kashmir. Pashmina is one such indigenous goat (photograph above by pashmina expert @sonal.chanana). The fiber obtained from it is called pashm and the fabric woven with pashm is called pashmina. Pashmina, therefore, is a kind of a Cashmere. The characteristics of Kashmir goats' long, silky coat are borne out of their biological adaption to the region's cold climate, what they graze on locally and how they are cared for by the local shepherds and artisans.
Tied further to the region is how and when the coat is sheered, which is a result of the know-how, traditions, culture and skill set of the local artisans. They sheer the coat in a specific season, process the fiber and spin it into yarn with their traditional process, and dexterously weave it into a luxurious, fine, feather-weight textile, on a hand loom.
It is hard to replicate this value chain elsewhere in the world and produce an identical product. Therefore, it is precisely the climate, the indigenous goat, the traditions, knowledge, skills and crafts of the artisans of Kashmir that collectively create what we end up calling Cashmere.
In this case, Cashmere's geographic origin is what differentiates it from any other fiber in the world, making its place of birth, its unique brand.
What types of GI products exist?
GI products can be agricultural, manufactured or handcrafted expressing local cultural traditions of the region of origin.
- Agricultural - think Darjeeling Tea, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Egyptian cotton
- Unique owing to the particular climate, soil type, agricultural knowledge and skills of local farmers and artisans
- Manufactured - think Mysore Sandal soap, Champagne, Scotch whiskey
- Unique owing to the ingredients, traditional methods, knowledge and skills local to the region
- Handcrafted - think extra-weft Kachchh Shawls, Cashmere (Kashmir), Chulucanas pottery (Peru)
- Unique owing to the cultures, traditions, use of locally found materials and knowledge used in handcrafting items that are primarily an expression of artisans' heritage, traditions and cultures
What are the benefits of GI to the region of product origin?
Acknowledging the geography-dependent uniqueness of products from a certain region is akin to recognizing and, by extension, preserving the heritage of traditions, cultural identity and expression, and a wealth of knowledge of highly skilled artisans around the globe.
These include hereditary textile weavers, spinners, embroiders, dyers, metal artisans, cheese makers, block printers, wine makers, and many, many, many more...all over the world. The more we are able to buy directly from artisans and craftspeople spread across geographies of the world, the more we contribute to the sustainability of these ancient, artistic, environmentally-aware communities.
What are the benefits of GI to customers?
Knowing from where a product originates helps customers get a taste - literally and metaphorically - of the geographical region's distinguishing qualities. Instead of customers having to travel to Egypt for fine cotton, or Kashmir for Cashmere, or Peru for ceramics, these products travel from their respective origins to customers, with the qualities of their geographic origin as their prominent DNA.
More importantly, in the long-term, consuming or using products with unique geographical indications is better for the diversity of our planet. By default we expose ourselves to the rich cultural heritage of our planet. We learn to eat new things, wear new fibers, store food in plastic-free ways...we improve our everyday lives taking the best from the world's cultures.
So if you want to enjoy the qualities, characteristics and the reputation of traditional methods used around the world, try products with geographical indications and be an active stakeholder in world's cultural diversity and sustainability.