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Nilambur teak will also enjoy the title of the first forest produce to attain GI status.

It’s official: Kerala’s Nilambur teak has now been given the prestigious Geographical Indication (GI) tag by the Geographical Indication (GI) Registry and Intellectual Property India. Kerala Agricultural University’s efforts to attach the tag to one of the world’s most sought after woods has finally yielded positive results. It’s also the first forest produce to attain the tag.

Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) received the information from GI Registry in Chennai a couple of days back. It was the initiative taken by KAU along with Nilambur Teak Heritage Society, the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) and the Department of Forests that helped Nilambur timber attain GI status.

Abdullakutty of Nilambur Teak Heritage Society said, "We are very glad to hear this news, GI tag will help us to conserve Nilambur teak. There are about 10,000 people including workers and traders who are dependent on teak for their livelihood, and the GI tag will fetch them good revenues, as it will block sale of fake products.”

What is Nilambur teak?

Nilambur teak is famous for its quality. One of the world’s most sought after woods, it has unique features like a large size, durability and its distinctive colour. Nilambur teak is said to possess high resistance to fungal decay and also exhibit antioxidant properties.

During the colonial era, the Britishers were drawn to the peculiar features of Nilambur teak, reports The Hindu. Due to this, they decided to transport the wood to London and other parts of the world to manufacture luxury furniture. In fact, the Nilambur-Shornur railway line was laid to make the process of transportation easier. 

Why the GI tag?

But in recent years, there are several cases and incidents of lesser quality teak being sold in the market as Nilambur teak. “The main challenge before the state government and the teak cultivators is to protect the variety from other teak varieties”, said CR Elsy, Head of the IPR Cell of KAU.

It was after the increased presence of low quality teak in the market that the IPR Cell and the College of Forestry of Kerala Agricultural University took the initiative to ensure the Intellectual Property Right of Nilambur teak. And that meant registering Nilambur teak as a unique product under the GI Act.

What is Geographical Indication?

Geographical indications identify a good as originating in a particular territory, region or locality. It is also an assurance that the quality and reputation of the good is linked to that particular geography. It is one of the eight intellectual property items coming under WTO’s TRIPs (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights).

GI allows any member country to protect products belonging to a specific territory from commercial exploitation by other states. This is ensured through registering such products under the Geographical Indications Registry. This automatically gives the product an internationally recognised trademark to protect the product from commercial exploitation.

The registration is done through Geographical Indications Act. India enacted the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 which came into force with effect from September 15, 2003. Once registered the GI tag stays valid for a period of ten years and the same can be renewed thereafter.

Pokkali rice is one of the first Kerala produces to get the GI tag. Other Kerala products with GI registration include Aaranmula Kannadi, Payyannur Pavithra Ring, Navara Rice, Palakkadan Matta Rice, Malabar Pepper, Alleppey Green Cardamom, Pokkali Rice, Vazhakkulam Pineapple, Balaramapuram Sarees and Fine Cotton Fabrics, Central Travancore Jaggery etc. 

Why GI is important

A classic example of the importance of GI is the battle over Basmati rice. Basmati is one of India’s finest quality rice known for its fragrance and high quality. India produces around 85% of basmati in the world. 

Patent right over Basmati rice became an international issue in the year 1997 when Royal RiceTec Inc issued a patent right for Basmati rice by USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) with patent number 5663484. The company started producing Basmati like rice under the name Texmati for export internationally. This hit the Indian farmers in particular badly who depended on the production of Basmati rice for their livelihoods. The battle went on for years and the issue was finally settled in 2001.