The Ministry of Commerce plans to register “Doung khtis Battambang” – or “Battambang wax coconut” – as a “collective brand” to ensure the sustainability of the regional delicacy and continued benefits for farmers and local actors, as well as to bring a taste of local culture and tradition to a broader international audience.
“Collective brands” are intellectual property (IP) assets based on an underlying ecosystem of businesses, merchants and professionals from the same industry or geographical region that typically pool resources, share information and provide other benefits among members.
Registration of these brands is handled by the commerce ministry, which also grants ownership to a managing organisation.
Suon Vichea, ministry adviser and director-general for Intellectual Property Rights, on February 7 took part in a consultative workshop on reputation building for the prospective wax coconut collective brand, held in Battambang province.
This wax coconut subspecies native to Battambang is known for its unique sweetness, waxy pulp and viscous juice.
Vichea, who is also chairman of the Secretariat of the National Committee for Intellectual Property Management, told the event that the selection of the distinctive regional product was a “visionary initiative” of commerce minister Pan Sorasak.
He noted that the collective brand framework is designed to make the most of local products in each province that are presumed to possess significant untapped economic potential, through a three-pronged approach.
The first prong, he said, is to encourage the consolidation of agricultural operations into agribusinesses that are capable of supplying large commercial quantities of products.
The second is to prop up agro-industry, by boosting the processing of agricultural products to create a wide array of items with greater value-added, he said.
For example, products derived from the Battambang wax coconut could be canned for easy transportation and export, and long-term storage.
Vichea said the third prong is to transform the areas linked to registered products into agro-tourism destinations, to improve employment opportunities and generate additional income for locals, pursuant to the government’s strategic goals.
But a sine qua non for meaningful sectoral development is to build reputable collective brands that consumers easily recognise and trust, he stressed.
To make this task easier, there are laws in place to protect the right of IP holders – be they individuals, companies or associations – that govern the use of the asset, he pointed out.
“With an ever-diversifying range of goods on the market, comprising both domestic and imported merchandise, the number of trademarks registered at the commerce ministry’s Department of Intellectual Property Rights has risen to about 100,000, reflecting the importance of product branding,” Vichea said.
The ministry has flagged the Battambang wax coconut as a regional product with superior marketability and the potential to attract investment in the food industry, which could lead to increased incomes for locals, and has initiated a seven-point project to build up the brand, he said.
According to Vichea, the first four points are: to develop a business model; clearly set out the criteria to define the product for consumers to easily distinguish from similar commodities; register it for protections at the national level; and employ common marketing tools to be competitive in the domestic and international food markets.
He identified the other three as: to motivate relevant actors to develop and maintain knowledge and skills; promote and optimise the management of the collective brand’s use; and encourage its use in popular foods, in a bid to draw the attention of people overseas and sway them to travel to Cambodia.
Battambang Provincial Administration deputy governor Soeum Bunrith told The Post on February 9 that there is a long-standing tradition of growing the wax coconuts east of Battambang town in Sangke district, and in Ek Phnom to its north.
This, he said, served as a strong motivation for the ministry to run with the Battambang wax coconut as a collective brand, which is linked to a geographical area in the province.
“Wax coconut trees are not just being planted now, they were planted by our ancestors and have lived long lives. Their coconuts are very creamy, unlike those from elsewhere,” he said.
According to Bunrith, this is not the first time that the ministry has entertained the possibility of adding the Battambang wax coconut to the collective brand registry. However, other products have consistently ranked higher on the priority list, he said.
He added that the ministry is also reviewing the pineapples from Moung Russey and Rukhak Kiri districts in the southeastern reaches of the province for registration as a collective brand.
Bunrith posited that more entries in the registry would bring more fame to the province and attract more investment.
He shared that he has asked people young and old not to cut down the coconut trees, urging them instead to leave a legacy by preserving them and planting more, to reap a heap of benefits.
A single Battambang wax coconut can cost from 20,000 riel ($4.90) to more than 40,000 riel, he added.
The IP rights department reported that it is diligently working closely with small- and medium-sized enterprises, agricultural cooperatives and other associations to build an identity for geographically-tied products, register them as brands, and use the IPs to spur, promote and develop production and businesses.
As a result, “Kampot Pepper”, “Skor Thnot Kampong Speu”, “Koh Trong Pomelo”, and “Mondulkiri Wild Honey” have been registered as geographical indications (GI), with many more products in the pipeline such as “Kampot Salt”, “Fleur de Sel” (Flower of Salt), “Takeo crayfish” and “Kampot Fish Sauce”, it said.
On the collective brand front, the department said it has registered “Phnom Penh Kuyteav” (Phnom Penh Noodle), “Ambok Kampong Thom” and “Preah Vihear Milled Rice”.
It added that it plans to add other products such as the silver-copper sculpting typical of Kampong Luong and Koh Chin communes in northern Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, “Pursat Orange” and “Nom Banh Chok Siem Reap” (a local variety of rice noodle).
Successes in building GIs and collective brands enabled a number of Cambodian products to penetrate foreign markets and gain wide consumer recognition, such as Kampot Pepper, Phnom Penh Kuyteav and Skor Thnot Kampong Speu, it said.
These products not only fetch high prices, but also help promote the tourism potential of their associated provinces, as well as Cambodian culture, customs and traditions, and history on the international stage, it added.