The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) is in the process of obtaining Geographical Indications (GI) status for its shea butter products that originate in Northern Uganda. Shea butter, a fat extract from the Vitellaria Nilotica species of tree, is a popular and sought after beauty product used in moisturisers, hair products and cosmetics world-wide.
WIPO defines a geographical indication as being ‘a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin, and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin’. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. The Vitellaria nilotica species of tree are indigenous fruit trees that grow widely in the Acholi Sub-region and other parts of Northern Uganda.
The recent steps to obtain GI status is part of the implementation of the Geographical Indication Act 2013 provisions, which was passed by the Ugandan government in 2013 and is aimed at protecting unique regional products in the country.
The URSB Registrar General disclosed that the application for GI status is a marketing strategy aimed at building consumer confidence and to promote the marketing of shea butter products to international markets.
In addition to the protection of shea butter, the Registrar General also indicated that Northern Ugandan region, and the country in general, have several unique agricultural products such as coffee and vanilla that are of high quality and need to be protected for the benefit of the local farmers.
The Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Norbert Mao, said that many shea butter producers in the region earn very little from their creativity given that the products are not protected. Obtaining GI status of the shea butter products will hopefully remedy this and ensure that local producers benefit from their harvest and product offering.
Around 7,000 shea nut producers from eight districts in the Acholi Sub-region (Northern Uganda) have now established the Acholi Shea Cooperative Limited and have filed the application to URSB to obtain protection of their shea butter products as a geographical indication of products originating from the Acholi Sub-region in Northen Uganda.
Uganda produces around three tons of shea butter annually, with the increased global demand for shea butter calculated at being 350,000 tons annually (according to figures from the Uganda Investment Authority). The global shea butter market is expected to grow to 2.9 million US Dollars by 2025, given the increasing demand for organic and natural cosmetic products.