Local Rooibos Tea Growers Take Charge In Effort To Gain GI Protection 12/01/2016 by Linda Daniels for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Small growers of Rooibos tea, in a remote region of South Africa, have taken up the charge in pursuing a geographic indication certification to protect their unique red tea against misuse and imitation. Intellectual Property Watch got the local story. Wild flowering rooibos Wupperthal is a remote rural town 250 km outside the city of Cape Town. The town lies in what is known as the Cedarberg region; the region is the natural habitat of Rooibos tea and is the only place in the world where it grows. Rooibos translates from Afrikaans into “Red Bush” in English. Aspalathus Linearis is the scientific name for Rooibos, which is the indigenous fynbos variety that is harvested to make the renowned South African Rooibos Tea. The tea was first discovered by the indigenous people of the Western Cape, the Khoi San. They harvested the green plant in the wild, chopped it up and fermented it to produce the unique red tea, loved by many across the world. The small growers’ efforts are to have Wupperthal Rooibos recognised as a geographic indication (GI) under the specific “scheme” of Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO (GI categorisations are referred to as schemes, as set out by the European Union, here). This follows Rooibos tea’s accepted GI status in last year’s long-awaited economic partnership agreement between Southern African nations and the EU. This agreement allows for GI protection of Rooibos under the scheme of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). According to the European Commission website this “covers agricultural products and foodstuffs closely linked to the geographical area. At least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place in the area.” South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies was reported as saying at the time: “It will be the Rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa which will have ownership of that particular name and that term will be applicable only to products that come from and are approved by us.” The same trademark protection given to Rooibos applies to Honeybush, another tea grown only in the Cape region of South Africa, and Karoo lamb, which is from the Karoo area in South Africa. This means that only products produced in those areas can be marketed under those trade names. Geographic name protection was also given to certain South African wines from a number of regions, in the same manner that the French industry has trademarked its Bordeaux and Champagne domains. Dirk Troskie, director of business planning and strategy in the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape Province in South Africa, explained that “in the case … of ‘Wupperthal Rooibos’ we are talking about a PDO – in the case of the latter the link between a particular area and the product is stronger.” According to the European Commission website the GI scheme of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) covers agricultural products and foodstuffs which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how.” Local View from a Lifelong Wupperthal Grower A lifelong Wupperthal resident and CEO of the Wupperthal small growers co-operative, Barend Salomo recalls to Intellectual Property Watch how he was taught by his mother to harvest the tea growing in the mountains and how to ferment it to make the brew. Salomo is helping to drive the initiative to have “Wupperthal Rooibos” recognised as a GI under the PDO scheme. “Wupperthal Rooibos” is currently certified organic and fairtrade. Currently, the drive to gain GI certification for “Wupperthal Rooibos” is at the beginning stages of community consultation. Salomo is optimistic that a GI certification of Wupperthal Rooibos will be an economic benefit to the community. “The value of GI certification is that we are protecting our legacy,” he said. “The community can benefit because there is a premium on the product. No one else can take it and do with it what they want.” Salomo, like many tea aficionados, believes that “Wupperthal Rooibos” is a distinct tea which stands apart from other Rooibos tea products on the market. Salomo has taken part in blindfolded tea tastings and could single out “Wupperthal Rooibos” from the other Rooibos tea products, he said. When he tears open a “Wupperthal Rooibos” teabag and another Rooibos tea product; he shows the difference between the two: “Wupperthal Rooibos is a red brick colour and is more glossy.” Another Rooibos tea farmer, Jessica Mouton from Wupperthal, said that she “feels proud” that Wupperthal Rooibos has such standout qualities that could lead to GI certification. Troskie is assisting the small growers of Wupperthal Rooibos tea with the process of attaining the GI certification, under the PDO system, for Wupperthal Rooibos. Troskie said that very specific factors make for GI certification. This includes what he terms “artefact”. Troskie explains artefact as a product “expressing the unique characteristics of a specific geographical place through the endeavours of people.” He lists “product” as another aspect of uniqueness. In the case of Rooibos tea, it originates from the indigenous plant Aspalathus Linearis which grows nowhere else in the world but in the Cedarberg region of South Africa. Troskie explained that the Fynbos region of South Africa is an important determinant of location. Troskie said that another important aspect of GI status is people and their involvement in the product. He notes that for Rooibos tea, the role of people includes the practices ensuring the sustainable use of the natural resource. Rooibos tea is a lucrative trade for South Africa. The South African Rooibos Council states on its website that Rooibos “provides income and employment to more than 5000 people and earns an estimated R500 million per year. On average, about 12000 metric tonnes of Rooibos are produced in South Africa per year. South Africans consume 4 500 to 5000 tonnes and the rest is exported.” According to the South African Rooibos Council, Rooibos is exported to more than 30 countries across the globe. Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America are the biggest importers of Rooibos. European, US Attempts to Register Rooibos The tea’s popularity has attracted attempts in the past to trademark the name, Rooibos. In 1994, a company called Burke International registered the name “Rooibos” as a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office. As the use of Rooibos became more popular, Burke demanded that companies either pay fees for use of the name, or cease its use. But in 2005, the American Herbal Products Association and a number of import companies succeeded in defeating the trademark through petitions and lawsuits. The matter was settled out of court when Burke surrendered the name to the public domain. In 2013, an application was made by a French company to register Rooibos as a trademark in respect of beverages in France. The application attracted the attention of South African Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies, who in a media statement said: “The registration of such a trademark in France could have a significant negative impact on South Africa’s exports of Rooibos products to France, and the DTI [the Department of Trade and Industry] is co-operating with the local Rooibos industry to ensure that South Africa’s trade interests are not unfairly compromised.” The DTI “stands ready to defend South Africa’s trade and intellectual property interests vigorously,” Davis continued. “However, the issues in this particular matter will require an urgent assessment of the legal options to strengthen protection of the Rooibos name in South Africa. “This is not the first time a foreign firm has attempted to capture the intellectual property associated with Rooibos,” he said. “As in the 2005 case that took place in the United States, the DTI will support the local industry to protect our mutual trade and economic interests.” Later that same year, in September 2013, the South African government took the first major step in protecting the use of the term “Rooibos”. In the Government Gazette [pdf] at that time, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies published the final Merchandise Marks Act prohibition notice on the labelling of Rooibos products and rules of use for ‘rooibos’, ‘red bush’, ‘rooibostee’, ‘rooibos tea’, ‘rooitee’ and ‘rooibosch’. The notice set out the terms under which the Rooibos mark could be used: “The name ROOIBOS can only be used to refer to the dry product, infusion or extract that is 100% pure Rooibos – derived from Aspalathus Linearis – and that has been cultivated or wild-harvested in the geographic area as described in this application.” The rules do allow for Rooibos to be blended with teas, infusions and other blends. Linda Daniels may be reached at email@example.com."Local Rooibos Tea Growers Take Charge In Effort To Gain GI Protection" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.