Eat Local, Wear Local, Consume Local has been an emerging trend, an undercurrent that was waiting for a trigger to become mainstream. Can the COVID-19 induced global pause be the kick it so desperately required? Hopefully, yes. We see a lot of debate about turning ‘Swadeshi’, for have we not just spent the last three decades trying to be global citizens? Was Swadeshi not what we read about in the ‘Independence Movement’ chapter of our history textbook? In my opinion, going local is a global need this time. Every region in the world needs to go local, at least to a certain extent. Leaders of a nation or state or district can only promote local consumption in their area of influence, but if all leaders around the globe promote the same principle, we may inch towards a much-needed balance between local and global production as well as consumption.
Along with this, we need to revisit ‘Small is Beautiful’, and move towards having multiple smaller units spread across the country instead of a handful of big units catering to most of the consumption. This may not be possible in heavy industries like steel, but it can definitely be achieved in most consumer products that can be built in smaller units catering to local needs.
I propose a ‘Local Balance Index’ or Santulan Soochak to be devised that takes into account the percentage of consumption from within the region and imports from outside. The index should take into the account the distance covered by the product from production to consumption. At a more granular level it should take into account the distance covered by the raw materials before they became a part of the product. This should be our indicator of the domains and verticals in a region that are good candidates, for moving towards self-reliance.
Today, when the big corporations declare their financial numbers, they talk about efficient cost structures and productivity parameters as inputs into their earnings. They hardly take into account the environmental and health cost that the society is paying for these efficiencies. We collectively pay the price but no one holds the responsibility to bring them down, not in practical terms.
So, if the Santulan Soochak indicates that your region is consuming too much processed food sourced from more than 500, 1,000 or 2,000 kilometres, you can look at options like choosing to produce it locally, choosing to produce and promote its alternatives, or campaign and encourage people to reduce consumption. Note that I am not proposing national boundaries but a parameter of distance to take these decisions.
The call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would definitely give rise to a sentiment of ‘Going Local’ and supporting local producers. If the MSME schemes proposed by the government do reach the desired audience, that should give a lot of open ground for entrepreneurs to play around. However, they need more than just moral support and financial options.
For local entrepreneurs to spot the right opportunities, the government needs to put a lot of trade data in the public domain. An average Indian, especially beyond the metros, does not know what the consumption patterns and sourcing map of their region look like. It is nearly impossible for an entrepreneur to get data on potential products that can be produced locally. They obviously cannot invest into market research. Strong industry-academia linkages can potentially help.
Traditional Indian businesses operated in clusters, where each individual business was not too big but collectively, they were an industry concentrated in a small geographic area. This gave them the so-called economies of scale along with collective bargaining power. Handicraft-based small-scale industries operate in loosely organised clusters like ceramics at Khurja or glass bangles at Firozabad or the weaving clusters across the country. New age industries too need to build their focussed clusters.
Local governments can take a data-based approach to deciding which industries work best for them based on parameters like availability of raw material, local demand, talent and the Santulan Soochak Index.
Awareness about the available local products in local markets is abysmal. Big corporations score high with their well-researched, high-profile, targeted marketing and cross-media campaigns. Local businesses need focussed local campaigns to highlight their products and their local origin. Government agencies can also pitch in by public listing of local businesses and local products. A few decades ago, there were strong local food brands in almost every region of India, be it the bhakarwadi of Pune or the pedha of Mathura.
In recent years, they have all gone global with standardisation of their products, tweaking their recipes for global taste and longer shelf lives, making them easy to replicate for global competition. GI tags can help in terms of protection but they do not really help with new markets unless coupled with strong geo-tagged marketing.Data-driven soft infrastructure is as important in enabling local producers as the easy access to capital.
Author and founder of IndiTales