The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) recently met with the Ube Kinampay and Asin Tibook producers to help them learn about the benefits of intellectual property (IP) protection, an effort hoped to lead to the registration of these Bohol products as geographical indications (GIs) which could amplify their prestige in the country and the world.
The Ube Kinampay and Asin Tibook are the newest addition to the Bureau of Trademarks’ (BOT) lineup of 31 potential Philippine GIs mainly because of their distinct characteristics, reputation, geographical connection and cultural significance.
The BOT’s workshops were held last March 13 and March 14 for the local producers of Ube Kinampay and Asin Tibook, respectively. Both communities learned in-depth the concepts of IP and the cultural and economic benefits of protecting these products deeply rooted in Bohol’s culture.
During the event, BOT Director Jesus Antonio Z. Ros explained how the GI seal can enhance their competitive edge in the culinary markets.
“We recognize Bohol’s various potentials, especially with its already recovering tourism industry. You have so much to offer. But I sincerely hope that more than that, we will be able to amplify your province’s rich culture, and branding is one of the most effective means to do that,” Ros said during the consultation seminar for salt-makers who expressed willingness to join forces to register their GI production.
“We are aware that your Ube Kinampay and Asin Tibook are already popular in various circles. We want to expand those circles by helping you protect and maintain your name, your reputation. Branding your products assures consumers of the quality, and this in turn will create demand and opportunities for better market access and revenue generation.” Ros added.
The farmer-producers of Ube Kinampay expressed interest in GI protection starting with by-products, such as ube jam and ube polvoron.
Efforts to map out potentially high-value GIs and assist producers and other possible rights holders in the registration process is part of the BOT’s broader Origin-Based Branding Program. The program aims to elevate the GI market of the country through IP protection and maintenance of the GI standards during commercialization.
On the brink of extinction
Hailed as the “Queen of Philippine Yams” by the Bureau of Plant and Industry, Ube Kinampay gained popularity for its smooth and round roots, sweet flavor, distinct aroma, and vibrant color that ranges from marbled purple-white to deep purple.
This variety of purple yam is considered sacred and so deeply rooted in Bohol’s culture that it is part of the province’s hymn. The root crop mainly thrives in the towns of Alburquerque, Antequera, Baclayon, Corella, Cortes, Dauis, Dimiao, Garcia-Hernandez, Lila, Loay, Loon, Mabini, Maribojoc, Panglao, Sikatuna, and Ubay, especially on rocky and sandy soils.
However, in recent years, the province saw a significant decline in the production of this ube variety, from 30,074 metric tons (MT) in 2006 to just 13,957 MT in 2020.
Ube Kinampay can only be planted once a year, preferably in the month of May, and takes up to six to eight months before it can be harvested. This, and other factors such as inability to adapt to scientific and technological advancements, aging farmers, unwilling successors and financial limitations contributed to the dwindling production of kinampay.
Celencio Maligsa, Vice President of the Bohol Ubi Growers Association (BUGA), also expressed concerns that the variety’s distinct aroma will slowly fade away as more farmer-producers resort to synthetic fertilizers to boost output.
“In our association, we try to make sure that our kinampay are planted organically to preserve its quality,” Maligsa said in a native language. “We have to protect Ube Kinampay; because with it gone, so is our Bohol hymn,” he added.
BUGA is the largest association of ube farmers, producers and processors in Bohol. It covers 26 municipalities with more than 180 members at present.
IPOPHL also visited the municipality of Alburquerque where the last few “asinderos” reside. They are the makers of the world-famous Asin Tibook, a type of salt popular among chefs and food enthusiasts for its sharp taste with smokey and fruity undertone, owing to the painstaking process to produce the product.
This salt, made through coconut husks, fire and seawater, takes up to three months to prepare. The by-product is a kilogram-heavy, dinosaur egg-shaped whole salt, hence the “tibook” description which translates to “unbroken” in the native language.
As with the case of Ube Kinampay, very few salt-makers — only a few families in the two barangays of Alburquerque — are willing to continue the tradition.
Nonetheless, Asin Tibook continues to gain significant attention worldwide as it is acclaimed for being one of the rarest sea salts in the world. The international Slow Food movement has also listed it in the Ark of Taste, an international catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.
LGUs as pillars
The local government of Bohol, particularly the mayors of Dauis and Alburquerque, took part in the seminar-workshop to support the farmers in their IP protection journey and committed to help improve their farm output.
“We are so grateful that we are given such attention by the national government, the DTI and IPOPHL, to help us promote our Asin Tibook,” Alburquerque Mayor Don Ritchie Buates said in his welcome message.
“We finally have the chance to take Asin Tibook to greater heights. We earned it, and we owe it to our ancestors,” the mayor added, addressing the salt-makers and pot-makers.
Meanwhile, Mayor Roman Bullen, whose municipality is one of the major Ube Kinampay producers, said they will continue to support their ube farmers and will collaborate with other municipalities to ensure higher yield of quality kinampay. The provincial government of Bohol already has a number of existing programs to promote organic ube farming, and is looking into the creation of a farm-tourism training school.
At present, a single group of salt-makers is estimated to produce 200 to 300 dinosaur egg-shaped salt per month. Averaging 1.3 kilograms, each egg can sell for P500 to P800.
The Ube Kinampay, meanwhile, can sell P70 to P90 per kilo when bought directly from farmers.
The Origin-Based Branding Program complements local efforts to improve the supply of the products.
“GI could help products fetch favorable prices that can uplift farmers and producers’ livelihoods. With this promise, we can incentivize the production of Ube Kinampay and Asin Tibook and encourage the passing on of its traditional production processes with zest,” Director General Rowel S. Barba said.