Friday, June 25, 2004

The Place of Place: Geographical Indicators and Contemporary Maori Development

The modern food industry produces food in locations considerably distant from where consumption takes place. This involves a number of linkages, technologies and practices, wielded by various economic actors who are embedded in diverse social networks. The marketing of products in this context has linked the concept of food quality to ingredients, process and location. As the ultimate destination of food produce is the human gut where it is literally incorporated into our bodies, these are issues that resonate across all societies. Food that can be labeled as possessing quality – however this is defined - appeals to producers as a high-value commodity, and to consumers as possessing premium value, either as food or medicine, or as a social good.

In New Zealand, food exports have revolved around ‘pampering the palates of the prosperous’ of the developed world (Williams, 1993: 347). Quality and novelty are important characteristics of New Zealand horticulture, as is the wider image of a ‘clean and green’ environment. Given that the criteria for food quality are now re-embedded within local ecosystems, in what ways do “process and place” contribute value to New Zealand agri-food systems? What are the options for Maori growers in their attempts to develop their businesses?

This paper introduces the broad historical and legal contexts of geographical indicators, discusses several examples, and describes the leverage Maori have to enable truly valid social and ecological sustainability indicators to be met. It is hoped that hapu and iwi ventures can proceed with more insight into this unique and distinctly local expression of intellectual property as Maori return to global trading.

Agriculture is a highly contentious sector in international relations and its power to enroll emotional energy is unsurpassed. Governance appears to revolve between the ‘two towers’ of the modern nation-state and increasingly powerful supranational organisation such as the United Nations (UN) and its various agencies, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These organisations have (with some reservations among the UN bodies) identified free trade between nation-states as a vital means to enable human development. Regulating this trade is difficult and fraught, with concerns now expressed that trade barriers will be based on spurious environmental regulations (Kastner and Powell, 2002). Such pressures are also evident at the subnational level, with consumer pressure coming from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), not least environmental NGOs as the Royal Forest and Bird Society have shown in recent headlines in New Zealand (Royal Forest and Bird Soc., 2004).

In the context of agri-food networks, the debate over the effects of globalisation generally fit into two opposing camps. The first accepts the forces of transnational capital and supranational neo-liberal agendas as overwhelming. The second disputes the helplessness of this position and seeks power and control – and importantly identity – in the regional and local (Le Heron, 1993; Ilbery and Kneafsey, 1999). The point of this paper is that this local identity can have a value beyond its contribution to any cultural diversity discourse. As such it is an important feature of the strategies available to disempowered groups who participate within agri-food networks.

Intellectual Property
The first patent laws were framed in Venice in the 15th century; their purpose was to entice foreign engineers by guaranteeing the rights to a 10 year monopoly on their work (Kaufer, 1980, cited in Dutfield, 2003). While this basic rationale remains, the areas in which this thinking can be applied have broadened considerably. Legislation that deals with IP is currently under review around the world as technology, especially within digital and genetic fields, advances beyond our regulatory abilities. (That they advance beyond our emotional abilities has also been noted, see McKibben, 2003). In New Zealand, various acts are under review that will impact upon the recognition and regulation of IP, notably the Digital Technology and Copyright Act, 1994, but law regarding patents in general and plant varieties in particular is being rewritten (Ministry of Economic Development, 2002a, 2002b). The Waitangi Tribunal is to report on rights of Maori to indigenous plants and animals (the Wai 262 claim), a report that may have major implications for the management of iwi and hapu resources (Williams, 2001).

The most significant international agreement is the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that was negotiated in the 1986-94 Uruguay Round. TRIPS introduced intellectual property (IP) regulation into the multilateral trading system for the first time. Figure 1 outlines the various categories of these property rights which originate in the concept of intellectual activity as ‘labour’, and the consequent outputs as ‘property’ (May, 2000). This paper will only deal with Geographical Indicators although all aspects of IP will impact upon Maori.

Fig. 1: The major types of intellectual property (Source: White and Griffiths, 2003:305)

Intellectual Property Rights
1. Unregistered rights
Trade Secrets
Passing Off
Industrial Designs

2. Registered Rights
Plant Variety Rights
Geographical Indicators

Geographical Indicators
A Geographical Indicator (GI) is a ‘label’ used to draw explicit links between the qualities and/or reputation of a good (often food or drink) and its place of production. Commonly it is the name of the location that is the GI, for example ‘Champagne’ refers only to that type of sparkling wine manufactured in the province of Champagne, France (similar wines outside of the province can be labelled ‘Methode Champagne’ or ‘Methode traditionale’, read the Lindauer label at your next party!). The importance attached to 'Old World' food and drink production, drawing on a long history of artisan or craft production, is an obvious result of the predominance of European thought and influence. This has been challenged by the United States and other developed countries (including New Zealand) in an effort to legitimate ‘generic’-style labelling.

It is my contention that Maori have much in common with these ‘old-school’, local food and drink producers in the ex-colonial nations of Europe. These producers simply wish to maintain their ancient traditions while supplying global markets, making a profit from their ancestral biotic resources, techniques and reputation. The actual TRIPS wording is enticing as it seeks to codify something immanent within the land: the goods or produce are deigned to possess value that is ‘essentially attributable’ to the geographic origin (Bellum et al., 2003: 197). In other words, the very location - its soil and environs - enables unique (and somehow high quality) produce to be made. Of course such a concept is problematic from a scientific point of view, however it is not the intent of this paper to engage in a critique of the scientific arena. Rather I wish to introduce the concept of geographic indicators as yet another means by which hapu and iwi agricultural and horticultural ventures can add value to their produce.

Brand Aotearoa/New Zealand
What examples are there from within Aotearoa/New Zealand of this method of labelling? First lets admit that New Zealand itself is treated as a brand by our own government-funded bodies, epitomised by Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) with the label ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ that features in international and domestic ad campaigns (Morgan, et al., 2002). Easy access to the fabled ‘outdoors’ is recognised as a major drawcard for (high-spending) tourists, as are the postcard qualities of the ‘Clean Green Image’ (cursed with its own three-letter-acronym, CGI). Recognition of this national ‘resource’ has led to calls for better monitoring of the environment from across the political spectrum, although huge differences exist between how such a resource should be administered (see Gillespie, 1998, for a description of the split between Maori and environmentalists).

While the foundation for this image may be the natural environment, Maori culture is also incorporated, as are some of New Zealand’s historical icons, notably the All Blacks and the ‘Silver Fern’, which have been subject to sophisticated marketing campaigns. In perhaps the best example, Jackson and Hokowhiti (2002) describe the role that the haka ‘Ka mate’ plays in the global marketing of adidas’™. What relevance does all of the above have for Maori horticulture? Is such a phenomena – essentially the appropriation of something called 'added value' from land and its produce – something that Maori should embrace, or should we run the proverbial country mile.

Branding Maori
Concerns over intellectual property issues expressed by Maori seem to be lie primarily within patent/copyright/trademark tradition, although Plant Variety Rights feature in the Wai 262 claim. In February 2002 a trademark was created by Creative New Zealand to ‘maintain the integrity’ of Maori art, and to assist in promoting this art and recognised artists nationally and internationally. The toi iho™ trademark marks a significant development in Maori IP. The mark is restricted to works by artists (individuals or groups) who are of Maori descent and whose work is of acknowledged quality (Creative NZ, 2004). The trademark is in many ways a response to Maori embarrassment and anger at blatant ‘rip offs’ in the tourism industry but should equally be interpreted as efforts by ‘Brand NZ Inc.’ to secure added value production for the New Zealand economy.

As in Europe, it is the wine and gourmet foods sectors that provide the most sophisticated examples. Tohu Wines has proven a successful brand for Wakatu Inc./Wi Pere Trust/Ngati Rarua Atiawa Iwi Trust to market $4 million of wine, principally to U.K. and U.S. consumers (Tohu Wines, 2004). In the words of James Wheeler, CEO, the main point of difference for their marketing is “being Maori…it makes their experience of our product superior” (Anon, 2003: 25). The attributes of ‘freshness’ and ‘naturalness’ have been attached to other Maori agri-food ventures, often embedded in organic practices; seafood is a significant example, especially in the South Island. Medicinal products stemming from traditional herbal remedies also feature; Tairawhiti Pharmaceuticals have commercially developed a product based on manuka oil that is unique to the region (Cooper, 1995; Cooke and Cooke, n.d.; Tairawhiti Pharmaceuticals, 2004). It is becoming apparent that ‘Maoriness’ is a component of added value, not just for the country as an ‘eco-destination’, but for individual hapu and iwi land-based ventures.

My reasoning for explicitly connecting hapu and iwi land-based industries to what is now a global intellectual property regime via Geographical Indicators is based on sustainability theories that likewise link local communities – their biotic resources and knowledge thereof, as well as lifestyles and livelihoods – to global sustainability, i.e. the actual continuation of human civilisation (with the presumed added benefit of increasing social justice along the way; see Goodman and Redclift, 1991; Berkes et al., 2003). My position is also based on a pragmatic realisation that while it is easy to clench a fist against global capitalism, it’s very hard to turn down extra money when this thing called moni solves so many mundane problems.

The continued growth of cultural and agricultural industries will see ongoing contests for property rights, not just over physical resources but for the ephemeral concepts of intellectual property; the phenomenon has been termed yet another ‘enclosure’ of a global commons (May, 2000). These contests are played out along extended networks that incorporate both social and technical elements. For indigenous peoples, these ‘sociotechnical’ networks have always been difficult to negotiate from a position that is in many ways subversive to state and corporate organisations from the outset. Although concerns ranging from access to markets and trade disparities to food safety and social justice issues, affect and afflict people of all nations, the negative impacts fall disproportionately on the poor. This is a challenge to Maori development that is geared towards that great Brand Kiwi tradition, pampering the puku of the global rich (see Ingrid D. Rowland's review of Feast: A History of Grand Eating by Roy Strong for an insight into the global history of this bioculture...)

That both cultural and biological diversity present themselves as not only desirable but necessary for the long-term survival of the human race underpins important discourses on sustainability. The philosophical position on the appropriation of wealth from the sheer novelty of indigenous food and drink is worthy of more serious discussion. The opportunity for indigenous land owners anywhere to state their commitment to sustainable methods cannot be denied. If this commitment can then justify a premium price in a global market - given that a global aesthetic as well as simple survival is dependent on economically marginal peoples - that is to be applauded.

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Williams, M. 1993 ‘Effects of public perceptions and global market strategy on the development of biological control technology in New Zealand’ New Zealand Journal of Zoology, Vol. 20: 347-356.

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