Your Excellency David Lipman, European Commission Head of Delegation to Thailand,
Mrs. Puangrat Asavapisit, Director-General of Department of Intellectual Property
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and on my own behalf, I welcome you all to this regional conference on rural development and agricultural and food quality linked to geographical origin: lessons and perspectives.
FAO’s mission is to eradicate hunger and improve the living standards of the poor. To achieve this we have two main thrusts for our activities in fighting against hunger, among many others. First, to increase agricultural production and productivity to ensure that enough food is available to feed the world’s population and, second, to assist producers, especially the poorest small farmers, to develop sustainable enterprises linked to agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry or fisheries and enable them to increase their incomes for a better livelihood.
FAO’s Quality&Origin programme contributes to both these results. The Quality&Origin programme focuses on agricultural and food products that are distinguishable from each other on the basis of certain characteristics, qualities or reputations resulting essentially from their geographical origin or traditional know-how. This differentiation can be attributed to the unique local features of the products, their history or their distinctive character linked to natural or human factors such as soil, climate, local know-how and cultural traditions.
These products of origin-linked quality constitute an important part of the world’s food diversity, offering consumers a wider choice, while contributing to food security. They offer opportunities for income diversification for rural populations, provided local and international marketing chains are developed, in which the various actors can benefit from the added value intrinsically contained in the products themselves.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Asian countries all demonstrate a rich food culture which has been elaborated over time, with agriculture and food systems developing alongside human civilizations in the various agro-ecological zones of the region. As such, the concept of food quality linked to its origin is very natural to most Asian consumers. Countries in Asia have adopted regulatory tools like Geographical Indications in order to protect the intellectual property of the producers of these traditional products linked to a geographical origin. Many such Asian origin-linked products have already developed an international reputation for quality linked to their origin.
For example, in my home country, China, one of the agricultural products currently registered as a Geographical Indication is Longjing Tea. I am sure you have already heard of this tea; it was developed more than one thousand years ago under the Song Dynasty. It is a green tea leaf that has a very recognizable flat and straight shape. The colour of the brewed Longjing Tea is tender green and bright; its taste is fresh and sweet with a lasting fragrance that can be flowery for the premium qualities. These very distinctive quality characteristics have been obtained from the leaf of the plant Camilla sinensis, which is also the primary product for all common blends of tea. So how does Longjing Tea acquire its distinctive shape, taste and colour? It is the combination of geographical origin, plantation skill, careful and selective harvesting, efficient handling and specialized processing techniques which jointly contribute to the uniqueness of this product. Indeed, Longjing Tea can only be produced in the West Lake district of Zhejiang Province. Its subtropical monsoon climate combined with the red and yellow loamy-clayey soils are beneficial to the accumulation of polyphenols that contribute to the unique taste of the product. The human factor comes from the leaf picking which is done according to three principles: early, tender and diligent. Finally, a double, successive wok frying to dry the leaves contributes to giving the distinctive shape of Longjing Tea.
Many agricultural and food product operators around the world have developed marketing chains focused around origin-specific products. FAO has supported this development by constituting an informal interdepartmental working group on voluntary standards and schemes for specific quality products. FAO provides the technical expertise to help our member countries make the most of these new marketing chains. The technical expertise ranges from legal advice in devising the appropriate regulations for such products to technical expertise on biodiversity conservation so as to help identify and preserve existing natural resources; it also covers capacity building in agribusiness management and agroprocessing as well as expertise on linking producers with markets, ensuring food safety and traceability, and analysing international markets and trade.
In this endeavour, FAO has been working with a wide range of partners. In Asia, the European Commission has been a leading actor in supporting countries in the region to develop the appropriate legal environment for the registration of Geographical Indications. In Thailand, in particular, the Department of Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Commerce has been a dynamic proponent of Geographic Indication development around traditional agricultural and food products that have a specific geographical origin. That is why it was very natural for FAO to collaborate with the EC Delegation to Thailand and the DIP to convene this conference on the subject we have all been working on actively.
I am pleased to note that during the past three days technical experts from FAO, the EC and DIP have been working with Asian experts through in-depth exchanges of knowledge and information on the subject matter. The experts have assessed the hurdles and constraints to the further development of an Asian agro-industry that links quality with origin. I understand that the results of the deliberations and recommendations from the meeting will be presented to you today.
For us at FAO the objective of this conference is to share information on the current status of rural development and agricultural and food quality linked to geographical origin in Asia, noting that the countries in the region have chosen different institutional options to manage this specific quality scheme. The conference will also discuss best practices for Asian countries in their implementation at national and local levels. I hope you will take the opportunity of this conference to establish networks and benefit from the knowledge of the regional experts who are present here. You will recognize them as they are wearing name cards with their area of expertise indicated on it.
I also hope that experiences and lessons learned from this conference will be used to foster new partnerships between food chain stakeholders and will help us guide policy-makers towards developing sustainable agrifood marketing chains for products linked to geographical origin and traditional know-how. The lessons from this conference will also help FAO to develop future programmes which, I hope, will become a catalytic instrument for regional technical cooperation in this emerging field.
Before I conclude, I wish to thank the European Commission Delegation to Thailand and the Department of Intellectual Property for partnering with FAO on this important event. I also wish to acknowledge the financial support of the French Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries through the “Specific Quality Project” and the secondment to FAO of two officers to organize this event. Furthermore, the Agence Française de Développement projects in Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have also funded the participation of Cambodian and Lao experts. Finally, I thank you all for coming here to share your expertise on agricultural and food quality that is linked to geographical origin, and how it can contribute to sustainable rural development.
I wish you a fruitful exchange of ideas and information today.