The process of registering Madd de Casamance as a geographical indication (GI) has involved local producers working together to develop and implement a quality assurance scheme to ensure the fruits are harvested under specific conditions and meet certain required standards. From the outset, the local producers in the Madd de Casamance value chain recognized the pivotal importance of preserving the environment in which the fruit grows.
Madd (or Saba senegalensis) is a wild species of fruit, a berry with a hard, yellow peel that can be found predominantly in the woodlands and certain savannahs of Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
The plant is a climbing vine with tendrils that allow it to cling to the trunks and branches of trees in the forest where it grows wild. Its yellowish-white and greenish-white blooms are highly fragrant and its ovoid fruits, orange when ripe, are up to 10 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide and are full of pulp-coated seeds.
The fruits are rich in carbohydrates and vitamins A, K and C. Eaten fresh, the seeds have a tart flavor and are typically seasoned with sugar, salt or pepper, or used as a condiment. The fruits are also used to make juices, syrup and preserves.
Madd de Casamance, which grows in the Casamance region of Southern Senegal, is widely reputed for its flavor and medicinal properties, and has been commercialized with some success by local women, in particular in cities like Dakar. It has great potential to become a flagship GI for the region, and the first GI in Africa for a wild product.
The process of registering Madd de Casamance as a GI began in 2017, with a sub-regional conference organized by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in collaboration with the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) and the Senegalese Agency of Industrial Property and Innovation (ASPIT). A study presented at that meeting, assessed the potential of the fruit as a GI and the level of interest among local producers to engage in the GI registration process.
The study acknowledged the reputation and distinctive characteristics of the fruit and its derivative products. It also identified other critical factors to support its registration as a GI, including the need to define the geographical boundaries of the area of production and to establish the traceability of the fruit and derivative products identified by the GI.
Local producers confirmed their interest in protecting the fruit and in 2019, with the support of the National Agency for Agricultural and Rural Consulting (ANCAR), ASPIT, FAO, OAPI and WIPO1, they formally launched a pilot project for the development and registration of Madd de Casamance as a GI. The project also has the potential to support the development of the region of Casamance in line with the objective of Senegal’s Decentralization Act III to organize the country into viable, competitive and sustainable development territories by 2022.
From the beginning of the process, local actors such as the ETDS (Economie Territoires et Développement Services), a Senegalese non-governmental organization, started working with local producers – mostly women initially – who were interested in adding value to the goods they derived from the Madd fruits harvested in the region.
ETDS’ first order of business, was to support the local producers – who would be responsible for governing the GI once registered – in establishing a formal association to manage and administer the GI. These efforts culminated in the launch in November 2019, of APPIGMAC (Association pour la Protection et la Promotion de l’Indication Géographique Madd de Casamance). The objective of the association is to bring together all those engaged in the harvest, production and distribution of the fruit from the region and is responsible for protecting and promoting Madd de Casamance and its associated products.
Bringing together local producers to establish APPIGMAC makes it possible for them to exchange ideas and agree on common strategies for the management of their GI value chain. For example, it enables them to develop and implement a quality assurance scheme to ensure the fruits are harvested under specific conditions and meet required standards. APPIGMAC is also working to identify new markets and schemes to boost the value and sale of its distinctive products.
GIs are instrumental in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched by the United Nations in 2015. The intrinsic characteristics of GIs – in particular their link with a locality and their collective management – can give rise to a virtuous cycle whereby producers effectively manage and maintain the natural environment, which defines the quality and characteristics of their products. As such, GIs have an important role to play in achieving sustainable natural resource management.
Recognizing the pivotal importance of preserving the environment in which Madd de Casamance thrives, local producers have worked from the very beginning of the GI registration process to ensure that their harvesting and production practices are governed by sustainability considerations. Why? Because the forests in the Casamance region are under threat from population growth, urban sprawl and unfettered exploitation of natural resources. Over-exploitation of the forests, fires, drought and overgrazing have heightened the risks of flooding and erosion, causing the disappearance of many animal species and posing a real threat to the production of Madd de Casamance.
In light of this, local collectors and processors across the Madd de Casamance value chain have agreed on clear methods of forest exploitation to restore and maintain the integrity of the original forest ecosystem. These best practices balance natural resource exploitation with the need to regenerate the forests where the fruit grows. They also form part of the mandatory requirements (book of specifications) that each producer will have to respect if they wish to label their products with the GI when registered. APPIGMAC hopes to complete the registration process before the end of 2020.
Buoyed by the positive results flowing from this approach, ETDS is working with local communities to strengthen a number of other emerging community-based forest management mechanisms. For example, in 2019, thanks to the efforts of volunteers to promote better forest management, the department of Oussouyé – in the Casamance region – was the only department in Senegal to record no forest fires in 2019.
GIs can have a positive impact on sustainable rural development, including the implementation of responsible, and often traditional, responsible production methods.
To maintain the reputation and characteristics of their GI, local producers and manufacturers recognize the importance of effectively managing the resources that shape the very qualities of their fruit. This is not just a moral obligation of such producers towards their environment; it is a matter of economic self-interest. Sustainable production of these goods, and indeed the social and economic well-being of the communities producing them, hinges on effective and sustainable land and natural resource management practices.
Madd de Casamance is an interesting example of how GIs can support the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability and the transition to a green future. As a collective endeavor, GIs have the potential to support efforts to scale-up environmentally sustainable practices, which might otherwise be more difficult to achieve with individual companies.
Moreover, economic actors in the GI value chains – collectors, processors and distributers – are used to independent audits such as production or product quality audits. Unlike many other products, GI-protected products are subject to regular controls to ensure that their associated qualities are delivered to consumers. As such, adapting GI-recognized products to quality or sustainability audits may be relatively easy.
GIs can also support seemingly unrelated goals such as the economic empowerment of marginalized groups. A GI is not about a single producer or a single manufacturer. A GI is a collective endeavor with many actors along the value chain. This ensures that the entire community is committed to the same goals, which increases the impact that the collective action has for the achievement of each goal.
In the case of the Madd de Casamance, which is also a valuable source of nutrition for the community, securing GI status is not only supporting the community’s environmental goals, it is also galvanizing the empowerment of women and youth.
Young people, for example, are typically responsible for gathering the fruit. They use their earnings to finance their studies. For their part, women play a key role in processing and selling the juices, syrups and preserves derived from the fruit, as well as in building the reputation of their products and establishing its value chain. In fact, women took the first steps towards seeking a GI for Madd de Casamance.
In the case of Madd de Casamance, and indeed, various other, GI-protected products, we see that when environmental sustainability is identified as a shared goal. The community organization required to secure GI status can be a powerful vehicle in responding to the sustainability challenges and environmental concerns of our time.