Poivre de Penja, more colloquially referred to as Penja Pepper, is a unique tropical pepper that is cultivated on the volcanic slopes of the Mount Kupa in the Penja municipality of the Littoral region of Cameroon. Poivre de Penja is a rare and highly sort after pepper due to it cultivation and flavour notes. Poivre de Penja is harvested by hand when it is ripe and red according to a traditional method. All production stages are done by hand and at the end of fermentation, the pepper is recovered and put in the sun to be dried. Poivre de Penja has aromas with heavy, woody, amber and musky notes. The pungency or heat of Poivre de Penja derives mainly from its minimum peperine content of 10.48%. The demand for Poivre de Penja from Michelin-starred chefs and upmarket restaurants has grown exponentially in the last few years.
As a result, there was a need to protect the rights of the local producers of Poivre de Penja to ensure that they were entitled to exclusively use the name Poivre de Penja. Granting them exclusivity in the name would prevent abuse from third parties who attempt to use the name Poivre de Penja in relation to pepper that does not come from the region or does not meet the standards of Poivre de Penja.
In 2013, the Poivre de Penja Producers Association was awarded protection Poivre de Penja as a Geographical Indication by the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) region. The OAPI region covers 17 West African member states, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Comoros, the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
Given the growing demand for Poivre de Penja internationally, there was a need to obtain protection of the Geographical Indication outside the OAPI region. The African Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Project (AfrIPI), an organization funded by the EU, and OAPI supported an application by the Poivre de Penja Producers Association to protect Poivre de Penja as a Geographical Indication in the EU.
On 17 March 2022, the European Commission announced the registration of Poivre de Penja in the EU as a protected Geographical Indication. Poivre de Penja is the first protected Geographical Indication from Cameroon.
In protecting Poivre de Penja as a Geographical Indication, the EU recognized that there is a causal link between both the quality and the reputation of the pepper and its geographical origin. The pepper’s typical characteristics are as a result of the geo-climatic conditions of the Penja region and the fact that the pepper is picked by hand makes it possible to yield high-quality peppercorns that are undamaged by machinery.
The protection means that Poivre de Penja may only be used in the EU in relation to a pepper where all production steps have taken place in Penja and which possess particular qualities due to its origin from the Penja.
Protection in the EU is an important milestone for local producers because whilst the name has been protected in the OAPI region since 2013, these producers were not able to control use of the name by manufacturers in the EU. As a result, they were not able to realize the full commercial benefit associated with the use of the name outside the OAPI region.
The EU recognition is expected to increase the market value of Poivre de Penja, which will not only benefit the Cameroon economy, but also the local farmers. Poivre de Penja has been grown in the area of Njombé-Penja for more than fifty years and the EU protection benefits those local farmers who have spent decades preserving the unique qualities and tradition that goes into the production of Poivre de Penja.
The EU’s protection of Poivre de Penja is an incredible milestone as it creates the potential for African products to be able to compete in the global market whilst ensuring that African economies and local farmers benefit from the increased commercialization of their unique products and traditions.