World Economy

Sri Lanka to Trademark Cinnamon

Sri Lanka to Trademark Cinnamon Sri Lanka to Trademark Cinnamon

The Spice Council of Sri Lanka wants to protect the brand “Ceylon cinnamon” and has approached the World Trade Organization and the European Union about gaining copyright or a patent.

Sri Lanka is the world’s leading cinnamon supplier thanks to its centuries-old industry, whose lush, green plantations are strung along the island’s southern coast where European colonists and Arab traders once flocked. But the industry says its product known the world over as “Ceylon cinnamon” is being undermined by a cheaper rival called “cassia cinnamon” grown mostly in China, Southeast Asia and neighboring India.

Ten years after the Asian tsunami devastated Sarath Kumara’s cinnamon plantation in Sri Lanka, forcing him to start over with nothing, the farmer faces a new threat from further afield.

“It took about four years before I could get any crops from new trees and it is only now they are giving a full yield,” Kumara, 54, said at his ancestral farm in Hikkaduwa, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Colombo.

“I have not seen cassia, but we know that some people (abroad) adulterate our cinnamon with cassia or sell cassia as Ceylon cinnamon.” Kumara lost a brother and a sister-in-law, while half of his 9,000 trees were uprooted, when walls of water destroyed plantations in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and left 31,000 people dead and a million homeless across the country.


The industry eventually recovered to become stronger than ever thanks to international donors and a herculean effort by its farmers who replanted half a million cinnamon trees in Hikkaduwa, and adjoining Balapitiya area. With cinnamon prices now soaring, the Sri Lankan industry fears wholesalers will increasingly turn to the cheaper product which is darker in color and according to purists leaves a bitter aftertaste – but still label it “Ceylon cinnamon” or simply cinnamon.

The council wants the WTO to declare “Ceylon cinnamon” a specific product.

The aromatic spice – used in savory dishes and desserts – grew naturally in Sri Lanka for centuries before Dutch invaders started commercial crops in the 17th century.

Sri Lanka’s cinnamon industry, which supplies 80 percent of the world market, is enjoying record export earnings for the island. High-grade cinnamon oil, extracted from the bark, has been fetching up to 65,000 rupees ($510) a kilogram.

Cinnamon earned Sri Lanka a record $135 million from 13,866 tons exported last year compared to $47 million from 12,000 tons in 2005 – with Mexico, Colombia, Peru and the US the major buyers. “Prices have never been so good,” council head Sarada de Silva said. “The challenge is to get our geographical indication recognized (by the WTO and others). That is the best way to deal with cassia.”