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The EU’s registration of Sub-Saharan Africa’s first geographical indication is an incredible milestone, as Alissa Nayanah of Adams & Adams reports.
Poivre de Penja, more colloquially referred to as Penja Pepper, is a unique tropical pepper that is cultivated on the volcanic slopes of the Mount Kupa in the Penja municipality of the Littoral region of Cameroon.
On March 17 2022, the European Commission announced the registration of Poivre de Penja in the EU as a protected Geographical Indication (GI).
A GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place.
Poivre de Penja is the first protected GI on from Cameroon and the first-ever sub-Saharan GI approved in the EU.
Poivre de Penja is a rare and highly sought after pepper due to its cultivation and flavour notes, and is harvested by hand when it is ripe and red according to a traditional method.
All production stages are done by hand and at the end of fermentation, the pepper is recovered and put in the sun to be dried.
A need for safeguarding
Poivre de Penja has aromas with heavy, woody, amber and musky notes. The pungency or heat of Poivre de Penja derives mainly from its minimum pepper content of 10.48%.
The demand for Poivre de Penja from Michelin-starred chefs and upmarket restaurants has grown exponentially in the last few years.
As a result, there was a need to protect the rights of the local producers of Poivre de Penja to ensure that they were entitled to exclusively use the name Poivre de Penja.
Granting them exclusivity in the name would prevent abuse from third parties who attempt to use the name Poivre de Penja in relation to pepper that does not come from the region or does not meet the standards of Poivre de Penja.
In 2013, the Poivre de Penja Producers Association was awarded protection Poivre de Penja as a GI by the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) region.
The OAPI region covers 17 West African member states, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Comoros, the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
Given the growing demand for Poivre de Penja internationally, there was a need to obtain protection of the GI outside the OAPI region.
The African Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project (AfrIPI), an organization funded by the EU, and OAPI supported an application by the Poivre de Penja Producers Association to protect Poivre de Penja as a GI in the EU.
Protection in the EU
In protecting Poivre de Penja as a GI, the EU recognised that there is a causal link between both the quality and the reputation of the pepper and its geographical origin.
The pepper’s typical characteristics are as a result of the geo-climatic conditions of the Penja region and the fact that the pepper is picked by hand makes it possible to yield high-quality peppercorns that are undamaged by machinery.
The protection means that Poivre de Penja may only be used in the EU in relation to a pepper where all production steps have taken place in Penja and which possess particular qualities due to its origin from the Penja.
Protection in the EU is an important milestone for local producers because while the name has been protected in the OAPI region since 2013, these producers were not able to control use of the name by manufacturers in the EU. As a result, they were not able to realise the full commercial benefit associated with the use of the name outside the OAPI region.
The EU recognition is expected to increase the market value of Poivre de Penja, which will not only benefit the Cameroon economy, but also the local farmers.
Poivre de Penja has been grown in the area of Njombé-Penja for more than 50 years and the EU protection benefits those local farmers who have spent decades preserving the unique qualities and tradition that goes into the production of Poivre de Penja.
The EU’s protection of Poivre de Penja is an incredible milestone as it creates the potential for African products to be able to compete in the global market whilst ensuring that African economies and local farmers benefit from the increased commercialisation of their unique products and traditions.
Alissa Nayanah is a partner at Adams & Adams. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Adams & Adams, Penja pepper, GIs, European Commission, OAPI, protection, commercialisation