Efforts to Achieve GI Tag on Sunderban’s Honey-Initiative of Some Organizations in India

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Recently on 18 January 2021, Bee Basket Society, Baromolla Khali Village, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India has taken an initiative to achieve the recognition of Geographical Indication (GI) tag[1] for the traditional honey of Sunderbans. Since then the traditional honey gatherers harvesting organic honey from the mangroves in Sunderbans, are seeing increased sales.

What is a GI Tag?

A geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign used on products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin (e.g., a town, region, or country). The use of a geographical indication, as an indication of the product’s source, acts as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a good reputation due to its geographical origin.

Geographical Indications protection is granted through the TRIPS Agreement[2]. Protection afforded to geographical indications by law is arguably two folds:

On one hand it is granted through sui generis law (public law), for example in the European Union. In other words, GI protection should apply through ex officio protection, where authorities may support and get involved in the making of GI collective dimensions together with their corresponding GI regulatory council, where ongoing discourse with the government is implied for effective inspection and quality control.

On the other hand, it is granted through common law (private law). In other words, it is similar to the protection afforded to trademarks, as it can be registered through collective trademarks and also through certification marks, for example in the United States of America.

The honey being collected in Sunderbans is well-found with a unique qualities. Considering the potentialities of this honey, three cooperatives like West Bengal Forest Department, WB rural development department, the gram panchayat launched an initiative to help honey-gatherers in the Sundarbans produce and sell organic honey in a sustainable way.

The initiative began, after forest dwellers of the Sunderbans came into increasing conflict with wildlife, in order to earn a living in the forests. Earlier, Sunderban’s forest dwellers used to collect honey or catch crabs in the small creeks, deep inside the forests. While some took a permit from the Forest Department, others used to enter illegally.  Mangrove forests are difficult to navigate, and they used to frequently encounter tigers and crocodiles.

Villagers from the Sunderbans region of South 24 Parganas depend on the mangrove forest ecosystem for their livelihoods fishing, honey gathering, etc.

The brackish water mangroves of the Sundarbans, have spindly aerial roots, that can cause injuries. Earlier, people used to go in groups of six to seven in a boat, hunting for bee-hives in the forests, with two to three people watching out for tigers and crocodiles. The harvesting of wild honey requires immense skill because the Moulis[3] need to remove the honeycomb without destroying the bee colony to ensure regeneration. For protection, they only have a thin local made cotton towel wrapped around their faces.

After the initiative of the above cooperatives, instead of going into the forests, the Moulis collect and produce honey inside designated forest camp areas. Now the possibility of man vs wildlife conflict is significantly lower.

Many in the Sundarbans don’t have land, so they are completely dependent on fishing and honey-collection. The new initiative provides a steady source of income for the families living in villages across the Sunderbans. Since the initiative started last year, the honey is being sold on Amazon, Flipkart, Biswa Bangla (under the West Bengal government), and through the cooperative’s own website (sundarbansjfmc.org).

These honey-gatherers were hit hard by the coronavirus induced nationwide lockdown in March, followed by the devastation of Cyclone Amphan. Due to Amphan, the (honey-collection) boxes were destroyed, bees were killed and the soil was ruined. The cyclone ruined the roads so the honey that had been collected, couldn’t be transported.

Unlike processed honey, Sunderban’s honey doesn’t have a uniform colour. This is because some 28 to 30 species of mangroves grow in the Sundarbans, producing various shades of honey, from golden to red to dark brown. Mangrove honey is extremely sweet and watery in consistency. (Not thick like processed honey).

Possibility of Approval of GI tag application

  • Mangroves honey is not produced anywhere else in the world, because of the Sundarbans’ unique vegetation.
  • The sweetness of mangrove honey leaves an aftertaste.
  • The indigenous honey of Sunderban has remarkably low HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural)[4]. HMF indicates the break-down product of fructose. HMF content of Sunderban honey is 26-27, while packaged honey sold in the market by big brands, maintain HMF content ranging from 60-185.

The concern authority of Bangladesh may think of achieving such GI Tags for our own indigenous products. Because it raises the business potentialities. The major part of Sunderbans is located in Bangladesh territory. Besides the overall economy, the honey gatherers of Sunderbans in Bangladesh side would be highly benefitted if some organization could take initiative appropriately.





[1] Geographical Indications, http://ipindiaservices.gov.in/GIRPublic/Application/Details/738
[2] The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It establishes minimum standards for the regulation by national governments of different forms of intellectual property (IP) as applied to nationals of other WTO member nations.
[3] Mouli = honey collector (in Bengali –মৌলি ).
[4] Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), also 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural, is an organic compound formed by the dehydration of certain sugars. It is a white low-melting solid (although commercial samples are often yellow) which is highly soluble in both water and organic solvents. The molecule consists of a furan ring, containing both aldehyde and alcohol functional groups.
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