Building and protecting community brands
Pure drip coffee product of Bich Thao Coffee Cooperative. (Photo: caphebichthao.vn)
NDO - Vietnam saw 88 products granted with geographical indication (GI) certification by the end of 2020, which were mainly agricultural products. GI is the State's certification for products with reputation and quality brought about by specific geographical conditions in specific regions and localities. Therefore, those who use GI have the responsibility to protect and promote these common brands.
Improving the quality of protected products
Bich Thao Coffee Cooperative in Hua La Commune, Son La City, has introduced two new products with production technology transferred from abroad and exported to Germany. They are honey coffee and pure coffee powder.
Son La coffee has become well known since being granted GI certification in 2017, with 90% of its coffee output exported in the form of coffee beans. Several enterprises that are allowed to use the GI of Son La coffee have found new directions to help their products satisfy consumers’ tastes, such as products by Bich Thao Cooperative.
Nguyen Xuan Thao, director of Bich Thao Coffee Cooperative said that the cooperative is shifting investment in specialty coffee products to meet demand of international consumers. The two new products of the cooperative have economic value much higher than traditional coffee bean products, and the cooperative has invested many billions of Vietnamese dong into technology transfer, factory building, training provision for farmers, and more, Thao said.
In addition to renewing products, enterprises using Son La coffee GI have also conducted projects to increase coffee productivity. Minh Tien Coffee Import and Export Company has carried out a pilot project on cultivating 60ha of high-quality coffee in the communes of Chieng Mung and Chieng Ban in Mai Son District, Son La City, and is working to build a factory to turn coffee pods into organic fertilizer.
Bich Thao Coffee Cooperative is also coordinating with Central Highlands Agricultural and Forestry Science Institute to pilot new varieties of coffee with yield increases of 10-15%.
According to the National Office of Intellectual Property of Vietnam (Ministry of Science and Technology), the recent development of Vietnam's agricultural market has demonstrated the position, role and great potential of agricultural products associated with community brands such as products with GI certification.
After gaining protection, many products tend to have increasing selling prices such as Cao Phong oranges with nearly doubled prices, Dai Hoang bananas with price increases of up to 130%, Phuc Trach pomelo with prices up by 10 to 15% , Luan Van pomelo with prices increased by 3.5 times, and others.
Many agricultural export products have GI attached, such as Son La coffee, Phu Quoc fish sauce, Thanh Ha lychee, Hoa Loc mango, and Luc Ngan lychee, thanks to the difference in quality and market expansion by promoting the application of science and technology and building and applying quality standards for GI products.
For example, Tan Thanh Phong Co., Ltd in Ha Tinh Province has invested in promoting Phuc Trach pomelo seedlings and coordinated with farmers in the Phuc Trach GI area to transfer planting techniques to ensure the uniform quality of the fruit. The company also invests in organic production to have cleaner and tastier pomelo.
Vietnam Star Aniseed Cassia Manufacturing and Exporting JSC (VINA SAMEX) has built star aniseed growing areas according to international organic standards in the districts of Van Quan and Trang Dinh (Lang Son Province), which have brought about higher economic value from 150 to 200%.
The company has also invested in processing technology, quality control management system and training for farmers according to international standards. Therefore, the company's export products have met the requirements of high-end markets such as the Republic of Korea, Japan, the EU, and others.
Building standards for GI areas
The improvement to the quality of GI products is mainly conducted by enterprises while lacking effective control of the authorities, therefore, uneven quality is seen in the GI area, affecting the quality of GI products.
There is also concern about the lack of post-monitoring mechanism for the use of GI to ensure the compliance with the standards stated in the GI certification.
Deputy Director of Minh Tien Coffee Import and Export Company Nguyen Duc Vinh said that the reputation of Son La coffee is at risk of being affected due to the harvest of young green coffee beans. In addition, 70% of the coffee volume in the area is processed manually, leading to uneven product quality.
Building a GI is already difficult, but retaining it is much more difficult. If only a few businesses improve the quality of their products, they cannot develop GI products in the long term.
In order to effectively develop this GI product, the authorities of Son La Province need to build a set of criteria as a basis for annual evaluation and management of the units using the GI to determine if they comply with the GI standards or not and to avoid quality confusion.
Local farmers in the Phuc Trach pomelo GI area also do not follow the planting and fertilising processes that affect the quality and taste of the fruit.
In addition, there is a situation that GI stamps are applied to products just to attract customers, without regard to product quality. All of these expressions affect the community brands and will damage GI reputation.
Amid the fact that product quality is not commensurate with the reputation of GI, managers believe that if there is no solution soon, the value of GI will gradually disappear.
Director of Ha Tinh Department of Science and Technology, Do Khoa Van, said that GI is only the certificate for products with reputation and quality due to specific geographical conditions in that region or locality. In order to develop GI, it is imperative to build standards for products that are suitable for the target market.
Most of the localities have only established GI and traceability but have yet to build product standards in the GI areas. Only the building of standards for the identification areas will give uniform product quality.
The representative from Son La Department of Science and Technology also said that in order to develop GI the GI management association must be strong enough and have the power to control and evaluate the product quality of units using GI.
Former Director of the Centre for Evaluation of Geographical Indications and International Trademarks under the Intellectual Property Department Luu Duc Thanh said that the control model on GI has not been specified in legal documents, but it is applied locally based on the experience of other countries, which has revealed many shortcomings.
Meanwhile, many GIs have not been effectively used, resulting in uneven quality of GI products. Amid this situation, it is necessary to review and have solutions to ensure product quality and make full use of the advantages from GI.
According to experience in managing GI in Europe, associations are effective management bodies of GI, thus it is necessary to study and clearly define the roles and functions of associations to contribute to the development of GI in Vietnam.
It can be seen that the current shortcomings are partly caused by inappropriate policies and mechanisms and there need policies to promote and innovate the management of GI.
GI management bodies need to support residential communities and manufacturers to establish collective organisations to manage GI or improve the capacity of collective organisations to perform their roles, especially in controlling the quality of products bearing GI. In addition, there should be close involvement of management agencies to check and monitor the compliance with the requirements of GI.
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