Most of us would have made purchases at the grocery store, super market, boutique or even online recently. What was the basis of our purchase? Brand, price, exclusivity, or other reasons. But have you bought a product because it is GI (Geographical Indication) certified?

According to World Intellectual Property Organisation, GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities unique to that place. To be a GI product, it must have a sign indicating its origin in a given geography. India has enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. It came into force from September 15, 2003.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been championing GI products through the ‘vocal for local’ agenda. He is of the view that if people use local goods for the next 25 years, there will be no unemployment. He has also appealed to tourists to spend 5 per cent of their travel budgets on local produce. The Swadeshi movement, promoted by Mahatma Gandhi in the early 1900s, hinged on buying local products. Buying such products gives a fillip to the local economy and culture, and a GI tag helps improve their marketability.

Darjeeling Tea was the first product to be GI tagged — in 2004, that is — and 478 products have been GI tagged/certified so far. All these are either farm or handicraft products. They are usually championed by civil society organisations, which help producers acquire GI certification and encourage them to use the GI tag for better marketability. In many cases the certification expenditure is met by developmental agencies, CSR funds and philanthropies.

Some strategies

While the number of GI tagged products is increasing, nothing much is happening in terms for sales. The following strategies could help popularise GI products.

First, all unique and marketable products, which conform to GI, must acquire certification as this helps build discourse around GI. Second, civil society organisations and governments have limited role and budgets in promoting GI products because it is a business transaction. Instead, enhancing consumer sensibilities to make them discerning buyers will have a more positive effect. The word ‘sensibilities’ is used because the consumer has to internalise that s/he is purchasing a unique product, which helps the local economy and also enriches the local culture.

Third, producers of GI goods must preserve authenticity of the products. Fourth, they must form associations/ guilds which set standards and eventually market the GI product. Fifth, GI value chain has a huge potential both for domestic and export markets. But this can become a reality only when an entrepreneur with superior marketing abilities identifies potential GI product (s) and works with the complete value chain involving all the stakeholders.

And lastly, State governments must promote all their GI products on their tourism websites and official portals. They also may consider using short message service to promote GI products. Each of us has a role to play in giving a fillip to our unique culture and heritage personified by our GI products.

The writer is a former Deputy Managing Director, NABARD. Views are personal