Shared assets in the global village: Urban and rural “terroirs”

The geographical origin of agricultural products has been used to indicate quality for many years. Who has not heard of Champagne, Bordeaux wines, Prosciutto Di Parma, Parmesan, or Roquefort?

This practice in France has led to the development of a specific geographic labeling system, the AOC, which is based on the concept of Terroir. Labeling products with misleading information is a result of the reputation and prestige that come along with their geographical origin. In many rural areas, fighting misuse has become a significant financial and legal concern.

The concept of Terroir, while widely understood in France, has generated a lively debate on its definition and international relevance. The United States has contested it at the World Trade Organization.

Now, the system of Protected Geographical Indication and Protected Designation of Origin has been successfully extended throughout Europe. Has the terroir battle been won?

A tribute to cultural diversity

The French National Institute for Origin and Quality ( Inao ) defines Terroir:

A geographically restricted area in which, over time, a group of people developed shared knowledge and production techniques based on interactions between physical and biological environments and human factors. These social and technological histories have given rise to a set of characteristics or typicity that provide these products with their fame.

The European Protection of Designated Origin was largely based on the French designation. Producers must meet the following criteria to receive this label:

The product’s history and reputation

The strict delineation and exclusive area for a geographical designation

The specific characteristics or typicity of a product; the knowledge and know-how that is inherent in local traditions and customs.

In France, studies of anthropology and history, geography and economics, as well as sociology and agronomy, have defined the link between a particular product and its “terroir” but not resolved differences in opinion about its exact nature.

Tradition and innovation

The concept of Terroir was a product of the wine-making industry for many years. Terroir, however, is a flexible idea that has gradually expanded to include French products like cheeses. Cured meats and vegetables.

This concept, which is sometimes considered to be inapplicable on an international scale, emphasizes the importance of natural elements, such as landscape, soil, climate, and genetic resources. It also highlights their interaction with humans. The legal protection of geographical designations and the definitions of localities raise questions about the value according to local expertise, product reputation, history, and natural environment.

Lamb from the Quercy area, Causse du Lot. Jean-Jacques Boujot/WikipediaCC BY-SA

Recent efforts have been made to encourage UNESCO to classify a few Terroir’s world heritage sites. This emphasis on heritage and history does not mean that innovation is halted or slowed down.

It is important to maintain a variety of social and technological systems in order to fight climate change and protect natural resources, such as landscape, soil, biodiversity, and water.

The question of how to reconcile innovation with tradition is complicated by the increasing industrialization of production, standardization of know-how, and the development of production lines for products based on origin (using reverse engineering).

Re-invention is a constant collaborative process.

While supporting private trademarking, the US has fought and criticized the concept of Terroir. Over the past decade, some American producers began to show an increasing interest in this concept. This group, coordinated by the American Origin Products Association, offers a real shift in perspective.

Labeling geographic origin is what Elinor Ostrom and Charlotte Hess describe as “knowledge shared.” This is based both on the prestige and reputation that a product shares with its customers and the unique set of natural and cultural resources that are shared by local communities and producer regions.

The EU protects Roquefort. Digitalyeti/WikimediaCC BY-SA

The growing number of countries from Africa, South America, and Asia adopting measures that are similar to Europe’s protected geographical indications is evidence of this attitude. In these cases, however, the concept of Terroir is more broad and includes a broader definition of typicity. Products are labeled according to their geographical origin with less emphasis on other criteria that define Terroir.

The Origin-based labeling has also been criticized in France for its perceived rigidity and lack of adaptability to international markets. However, it has helped promote local products and strengthen regional identities. Terroir has helped to reshape urban-rural relations by creating a new link.

Terroir is a powerful economic development tool in many rural areas of the EU. It promotes traditional, regional, and typical products by using an origin-based label.

In addition to adapting and transforming the concept of Terroir for different contexts, this includes, among others, “urban terroirs” and artisanal goods. This use should help to reshape the way we view regions and their heritage.

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