Academic journal article Africa

Natural Patrimony and Local Communities in Ethiopia: Advantages and Limitations of a System of Geographical Indications

Academic journal article Africa

Natural Patrimony and Local Communities in Ethiopia: Advantages and Limitations of a System of Geographical Indications

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Among various processes of recognition and development of local know-how related to biodiversity, the protection systems based on Geographical Indications seem to open up interesting perspectives for the countries of the South. Ethiopia is on the way to equipping itself with such a tool.

In this article we argue that Ethiopia offers an exceptionally good terrain for setting up such a mechanism. It has many products derived from the exploitation of biodiversity by a variety of cultural groups. Many of these products already have reputations linked to their cultural geographical origin. The existence of competitive national and international markets requires labels and protection systems.

Nevertheless adoption of a Geographical Indications system is not without its problems. The specific circumstances of the Ethiopian context--social and institutional as well as environmental--raise questions as to the limitations and possible risks of such a system, including the unequal development of certain components of biodiversity, standardization and loss of know-how, modification of current territorial subdivisions and the corresponding social and administrative organizational structures.

RESUME

Parmi les processus de reconnaissance, de valorisation et de protection des savoir-faire locaux sur la biodiversite, les systemes d'indications geographiques semblent ouvrir d'interessantes perspectives aux pays du Sud. L'Ethiopie est en passe de se doter d'un tel outil.

Il sera d'abord montre en quoi ce pays offre un champ d'application tout a fait exceptionnel a ce type de dispositif : de nombreux produits issus de l'exploitation de la biodiversite par des groupes culturels tres varies, jouissent deja de reputations liees a leur provenance; l'existence de marches concurrentiels nationaux et internationaux rendent judicieux la mise en place de labels et de protection.

Cependant l'adoption d'un systeme d'Indications Geographiques n'est pas sans presenter certaines difficultes. Les specificites du contexte ethiopien, aussi bien sociales, institutionnelles et juridiques qu'environnementales, amenent a s'interroger sur les limites, voire les eventuels risques, d'un tel systeme: valorisation inegale d'elements de la biodiversite, normalisation et appauvrissement des savoir-faire, remise en cause des decoupages territoriaux actuels et des organisations sociales et administratives correspondantes.

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Discussions at international meetings on biodiversity protection over the past decade have repeatedly emphasized 'knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities'. (1) It is of course difficult, perhaps illusory, to define such complex and controversial notions in a few simple terms. But once past this obstacle, the fundamental aim is to find new pathways for conservation by strengthening the ties between human societies and their natural environments. Another aim is to find new ways to enhance the value of biodiversity and to share the benefits that can be drawn from it. Protection of ecosystems, species, plant varieties and animal breeds goes hand in hand with recognition of the knowledge and know-how of the societies that use them. Initially tools of sustainable management, this knowledge and these practices become in turn a heritage that must be inventoried, maintained, protected and brought to fruition (Cormier-Salem and Roussel 2002).

From this point of view, Ethiopia is an exceptionally rich example. This vast territory in the Horn of Africa offers remarkable biological diversity (2) alongside a wide range of human cultures, often at quite ancient sites. Well known for its diverse mountain ecosystems, Ethiopia is also a major world centre from which cultivated plants originated (Engels et al. 1991; Zemede Asfaw 1997). It is thus not surprising that Ethiopia has emerged as one of the major players in elaborating positions that are common to all of Africa in international bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) or the Rio Convention. …

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