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Develop locally, sell globally
The last time there was a public call for citizens to buy local, it came from Wendy Lee Yuen, a local agriculture professional and farming consultant. And that call made sense as Ms Lee Yuen urged the public to make more use of locally grown food in their diets and the public sector to take advantage of these ingredients in their menus.
The logic was sound. These were foods we once ate regularly, they are fresher and healthier than imported and processed food and a rise in demand would provide a much-needed impetus for more investment and involvement in local agriculture. Last Monday, the Trinidad and Tobago Local Content Chamber sought to revive the Buy Local campaign, a strategy to keep local dollars at home and to encourage the growth of local business in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.
Chamber president Lennox Sirjuesingh described the current situation as “neocolonialism.” Strong words for an accumulation of tastes, cultural laziness and enthusiasms for packaged, first world goods. While there are some aspects of Mr Sirjuesingh’s arguments that merit some consideration, it remains unclear whether an effort to push paying customers into consuming more locally-produced product can work in 2012. The first Buy Local campaign was introduced in the flush of hopes for a newly-independent nation. Our access to foreign goods was limited, and exposure to first world cultural traditions limited to the American Top 40, cinema and the imported television that TTT could afford to air.
Today’s local customer is a patron of Amazon, a viewer of dozens of channels of cable programming, complete with exciting advertisements for entirely attainable products and visits local malls stocked with an array of goods shipped in from countries all around the world. We have snacks from China and the Phillipines, milk from Germany and cornflakes from the USA.
In the midst of all this apparently-frenetic consumption of goods originating from foreign shores, our manufacturers are apparently successful enough to warrant alarms being rung in Jamaica and Barbados about the unfair energy advantage that local manufacturers enjoy.
In short, globalisation has made the imperatives of buying local less clear cut than ever before. Changing local tastes now is no longer a matter of insisting on preferred attitudes but of seducing more sophisticated consumers into trying local products, both physical and cultural. In a world that consumes bits as well as atoms, producers of goods that move over fiber optic cable enjoy greater advantage than those who must produce shrinkwrapped pallets full of boxes for shipment.
Are manufacturers still being threatened by arbitrary trade rules? That’s hard to imagine happening in any country that wants to play by the rules of globalisation. What’s certain is that local companies, artists and craftsmen need to do more to persuade local customers of the competitive quality of their products where such shortfalls in perception exist.
There’s great potential available for producers, artists and artisans who work in bits, and it’s these creators who most desperately need leveraging assistance to move their products in the online marketplace. Any effective campaign to encourage more purchases of local product, both packaged and creative, must be focused on persuasion, not pressure, and an acknowledgement of the need for more aggressive marketing.
A local product, crafted to international standards and marketed persuasively is an asset that’s likely to attract attention from local as well as international customers. The next step, then, is to separate producers of bits and atoms and craft strategies that raise product standards and improve marketing for boxes and digitally enable more of our local producers of bits to participate in online markets. It’s simply no longer enough to love our own, we must be ready to refine, package and effectively sell it too.
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