Bangladesh now has 19 GI-certified products

Abu Sufian

When Khirsapati mango from Chapainawabganj received Geographical Indication (GI) certification in 2019, mango farmer and retailer Ajom Ali was thrilled,

thinking it would boost his business.  However, years passed, and nothing came out of it.

So, when three more mangoes from Chapainawabganj — Langra, Ashwina and Fajli varieties —  received GI certifications,

Ajom Ali simply ignored the news. His logic was simple. “I don’t see how these certifications help people like me or do any good to improve the business of these products.”

GI products are associated with specific geographic origins and the unique qualities or reputation derived from that origin

and its production methods. GI certification is important as it opens the door for a country to brand itself on the global stage, expand economically, and safeguard its cultural legacy.

The scope of global branding comes from the fact that GI tagging reflects a product’s unique quality and high standards from a specific origin, which creates trust and confidence

in the customers about the product’s authenticity and quality. This unique status of a specific region and exclusivity can also lead to a higher perceived value for the products

and create a niche market, making it more difficult for competitors to imitate or replicate.  An example would be Darjeeling Tea, one of India’s first GI products, which has garnered

huge popularity and demand worldwide over the years. According to Tea Board India data, the country exported 3.02 million kilograms of tea in 2022 alone, representing 45.48% of all production.

As of now, Bangladesh has 19 GI products. Since the enactment of the GI Act in 2013 in Bangladesh and the subsequent certification for Jamdani sarees by the Department of Patents,

Designs, and Trademarks (DPDT) in 2016, there has been an anticipation of generating international demand for these products.

However, the export of Bangladesh’s heritage items has remained extremely limited, with many products virtually absent from the global market. Experts attribute this lack of global

presence for these remarkable heritage goods to various factors, including insufficient documentation, limited involvement from both the private and public sectors, a lack of

emphasis on quality assurance, inadequate efforts in research and documentation and so on.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), for a sign to qualify as a Geographical Indication, it must distinctly identify a product originating from a particular place.

For example, Jamdani saree, the first GI product in Bangladesh, got the certification because of the unique quality and method of production.

The starch used for the fabric is prepared from a variety of rice named Til Bajal, which is only available on the Shitalakhshya riverbanks. The river’s water also plays an important

role in producing the fabrics. Because of these geographical characteristics, the Jamdani produced in Bangladesh differs significantly from any other saree or fabric of similar types.

“You can produce very similar fabrics and sarees like Jamdani anywhere and they may even look the same in terms of designs. But it will never be Jamdani because the geography and

ecosystem are not the same,” explains Pavel Partha, researcher and writer on ecology and diversity, geographical ecosystems and occupational groups of GI products.  He added that,

like Jamdani, most of the “products we have registered as GI in Bangladesh deserve to be certified”. But the problem is that the “gap in the documentation process for our GI products is glaring”.

If you take a quick scroll through the background documents published in Bangladesh

Government Journals for GI-certified products, you will see how ridiculous the documentation is.”  The documentation process for GI products in Bangladesh has many

shortcomings. Insufficient and often unreliable information in government publications raises concerns about the authenticity and global recognition of GI-certified products.

 

“These documents are a patchwork of available data from Wikipedia or news pieces and don’t reflect the geography, culture, identity and heritage of the product, which is a global

standard for GI certification,” said Pavel Partha.  “This is definitely one of the issues. Once we introduce these GI products in the international markets, and people take a look at the

sorry state of our documentation, the consumers will lose confidence and our products will lose credibility,” he explained.

He, however, pointed out that GI is not supposed to ensure that a product will be a selling success overnight. “We’ve to start working on GI accepting the fact that we can’t mass-

produce these heritage products. The prices will always be higher and the market smaller if we want to maintain the global standard of GI. So the focus should be maintaining quality in both certification and production.”

Despite holding the status of a GI product since 2016, Jamdani faces challenges in reaching customers compared to other GI products from different countries. While Jamdani is

exported to various nations, including India, the US, Europe and the Middle East, the export quantities are relatively low and there is lack of adequate data regarding the market size of Dhakai Jamdani since the export process is not properly monitored.

Anadil Johnson, a fashion designer with Bangladeshi roots and the founder of Chicago-based fashion house Neval, highlights that the global luxury bridal clothing market is

valued at $62 billion annually. Bangladesh has the potential to secure a substantial portion of this lucrative market if the country can utilise the GI certification of Jamdani.

“Jamdani fabrics are not limited to sarees but can also be used to create exquisite high-end

garment items, particularly for weddings and bridal collections,” she said while speaking at the closing ceremony of a training project titled, “Creating High-End Fashion with Local

Heritage Materials of Bangladesh.” She has been utilising these exquisite fabrics to create high-end garment items, particularly for her customers in the US, with a special focus on

wedding and bridal collections. “A jacket made from heritage materials like Jamdani retails at more than $800 in western markets owing to their strong demand among high-end customers,” she added.

Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), says since Jamdani is a non-traditional material, they tried to develop a wedding gown with it.

“Globally, wedding gowns have a demand of around $50 billion annually and it will grow to

more than $70 billion dollars by 2030,” he said, adding that the more we explore that

market, the more we can use Jamdani than any other material.  However, he says the utilisation of Jamdani poses a few challenges.

“Jamdani fabric is not available on a large scale because of the production method involved.

The local capacity of fabric production needs to be increased to a great extent if we want to tap into the global demand for Jamdani. Besides, quality assurance, compliance, and promotion of this material to buyers are major challenges as well.”

He said there should be research and focus by the government as well to encourage and inspire people to work with GI products, especially Jamdani.  The private and public sectors

in Bangladesh have demonstrated a notable lack of proactive involvement in harnessing the potential of GI products, according to him. “Robust initiatives need to be taken from both

sectors. Bangladesh’s small and cottage industries or SME industries can take the lead with the help of the central bank’s special fund to leverage the GI status of Jamdani.”  A senior

official of the DPDT said on the condition of anonymity that the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries have been planning to export mangoes to the international

markets, especially the European countries.

“The government can oversee the certification, but for the business and export part to be successful, it has to be led by the private sector,” the official said.

Pavel Partha also pointed out that GI products’ value and popularity depend on their

cultural and geographical aspects, and because of that, ensuring the product’s quality is paramount if Bangladesh wants to have a strong line of GI products with global recognition.

“We cannot do that unless the science of producing these products and the occupational groups involved are considered. If we start exporting GI products without making sure that

there are no hazardous chemicals, that no labour rights were violated, no children were exploited or there is no gender-based discrimination in the production process, our

products will not do well in the international market,” Pavel said.  So when the government and the private sector focus on the commercial aspect of the GI products, he urges them to

conduct thorough background research, proper documentation of the cultural heritage and science of the products, and the occupational community involved.

Partha’s proposed solution for the gaps in Bangladesh’s GI certification comes with a two-step approach.  First, proper background documentation should be ensured. “Without

proper documentation, we can’t keep up with the global standard. And if it is established

once that the GI certification in Bangladesh is weak and lacks appropriate background documentation, how will the country recover from that?” he said.

He suggests that the government use its already existing infrastructure and human

resources — local government, academic institutions and local media — to gather information about the GI products.

“We don’t need any budget or project for this. Students and people working at the local government level would gladly work on it because they’d be working to preserve their

heritage,” he explained. The second step would be forming a national register of GI. The local governments can do surveys and register the potential products for GI certification in

their areas. A review committee will assess these products and see which one is eligible for GI.

“Without a national register, GI certification will be handed out without proper

documentation and global standards, which has been happening until now. But if we have a national register, which should be updated every year, we can ensure that we’re doing the

certification right and contributing to the life of the occupational groups involved in the trade,” he explained. According to the DPDT official, the certification is only the primary

recognition. “There is no point in only recognising the products if we cannot ensure that the community involved with these products benefits. In addition to exporting the products abroad, the government would also focus on developing tourism involving the GI products.”

As an example, the official pointed out the GI certification of Natorer Kachagolla. “If we can promote this product properly,

then people might be interested in visiting Natore to taste Kachagolla and also check out the historical places.”


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