By Thin Lei Win
VORONEZH, Russia, May 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Parma ham. Champagne. Stilton cheese. Scotch Whiskey. What do they all have in common?
Consumers globally pay a premium for the taste of these products that are legally protected under a "geographical indications" (GI) label, meaning only products from that region meeting set production and quality criteria can use the name.
But can cabbage from Serbia, pepper from Cameroon, or figs and peaches from Turkey find similar success? Experts think so, and joined forces this week to push for more small-scale farmers to benefit from prestigious local labelling.
"The potential (for GI) in this part of Europe is huge," said Jakub Jasinski, an assistant professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Rural Development, at a three-day regional food conference in southwest Russia.
Jasinski cited the success of rogal swietomarcinski, a croissant from Poznan, Poland, coated with icing and sprinkled with chopped nuts, that won protection a decade ago.
Production has more than doubled since, Jasinski said.
"(GI) is an instrument to develop local communities and help small producers," Jasinski, who has studied the systems in eight European countries, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Emilie Vandecandelaere from the conference organiser, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agreed, calling it "a strategic tool" to benefit small-scale farmers.
Vandecandelaere was involved in a recent study of nine products with GI labels, including Morocco's Taliouine saffron and Serbia's Futog cabbage, that found the labelling boosted prices by up to 50 percent.
Nearly 1,400 products, excluding spirits, are registered for the GI tag on the European Commission's database with FAO data showing trade in these products amounts to $50 billion a year.
They range from traditional Welsh Cider and meat from grass-fed horned lamb of Gotland in Sweden to jasmine rice grown only in Thailand's northeast.
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Osman Ozkan produces black figs with dark purple skin and red flesh in Turkey's northwest Bursa region where about 1,700 small-scale fig growers are looking to benefit from a GI label.
"We would like to protect our product's reputation, make it easier to access market, gain premium price ... and prevent misleading use of 'Bursa Black Fig' name," said Ozkan, who is president of the Black Fig Producers Union in Bursa.
The FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are working with Turkish authorities to help black fig and peach farmers from Bursa receive GI labels.
Emmanuel Nzenowo from Penja Pepper producers' association in Cameroon cautioned that while the certification is rewarding, the process can be long and hard.
In Cameroon it took over five years to register the aromatic white peppercorns but Penja Pepper became one of the first African commodities to get such a label in 2013.
Farmers are still facing challenges, from diseases to improving traceability of the product, but the "personal and collective impacts are visible", he said in an email, adding the money had let people buy houses and send children to school.
Vandecandelaere acknowledged it was hard for small-scale farmers to navigate the registration process and requirements which was why the FAO was providing technical support for this.
Jasinski said getting the label alone may not lead to success as producers needed the involvement of ministries and institutions working on rural development as well as consumers.
"Consumers have to know why they should pay more for products with GI ... that it's something special, that there's a story behind this product," he said.
(Reporting by Thin Lei Win, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org) ))
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