FOR many years now, our small producers of handicraft, artisanal crafts, and woven fabrics could never compete in the world market. There would always be China or Thailand that could make it cheaper, better and plentier.
In coffee, we were always compared to Vietnam or Indonesia. We also did not have and still do not have the quantity to compete with the bigger producers. Just for domestic demand, our coffee production will already be used up. And we still need to import the balance required.
So what will Maria the artisan or Ligaya the coffee grower do? Will she stay uncompetitive forever? Will she need to form clusters with other farmers to get economies of scale? Will it work for artisans who do works of art, slowly and in very small quantities?
Alas, the world has awakened to the plight of the small producer. At a recent show we attended as ECHOstore promoting the Great Women brand of handicrafts and weaves, we met the world that has changed its buying habits. The world, or at least the American market we met, has room for “handmade” and artisan (no matter how netizens and media have abused the word). The time of the artisan has come.
Today, there is an apparent shift in buying habits in consumption, while in the past, everyone wanted the cheapest goods on the planet in humongous amounts. The patterns have changed. Now, there is a subset looking for the “un-manufactured” or something made with heart and soul.
And they are willing to pay the price for it as long as it espouses fair trade principles. Fair to the producer. Fair to the consumer.
Tell the story. Everyone now wants to know the truth about what they are buying. If it is food, is it safe? How was it produced? If it is not food, who made it? Who did the weaving? What is her name?
In coffee, where is the farm? Who is the farmer? It is also true with other commodities like cocoa for chocolate bars, for heirloom rice and for fruits and vegetables. People demand the information, and rightfully so. If you will pay a good price, a lot of that value must go to the very hands that harvested it, or the hands that made the weave or the hat or a bag.
I never thought I would live to see this day. But it is here now. The market is changing and everything is going back to basics. Ironically, it took technology to bring things back to its natural state! So we needed technology in the past to become industrialized. Then people produced too much at the lowest prices. And then there was waste and inequality. Sellers bought cheap and the maker also got the lowest value. The consumers demanded for more at the lowest possible price. All that is now changing.
China is even buying from other countries even if it can make almost everything cheaper than anyone else. Why? Because the world is changing.
Small producers from Asia, South America and Africa could never compete. So they remained at the bottom of the choices — poor, organic by default, not competitive. Not anymore.
Today, consumers are getting enlightened that buying from less developed countries may give them more natural and safer products. Consumers have become demanding of the truth, the story, the producer.
For health and moral issues, consu–mers are becoming more inquisitive. So this is the time to focus on the small ones. The rules are changing. We can now be in the world market. Because natural is in. Small is beautiful.
I remember reading that book Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher when I was in college, because it was strongly recommended by my father. I had no idea this time will come and the book is now so relevant to what we are doing in our own little social enterprise.
You need not be big to make a difference. The small producers of today finally have that chance to be recognized and be sustainable in this new order of the world. And we witnessed it at the show in New York, where you only had to be original and authentic to compete.
Back to basics.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra, Podium, Centris QC mall and Davao City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook: Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at email@example.com