One day, the legend says, there was a huge fire in the forest. All the animals were petrified and watched helplessly the disaster. Only the little hummingbird was active, fetching a few drops with its beak to throw them on the fire. After a while the armadillo, annoyed by his ridiculous agitation, said to him: "Hummingbird! Are you mad? It is not with these drops of water that you will put out the fire!
And the hummingbird replied, "I know that, but I am doing my part."
I am taking advantage of this space to make my statement on an issue that affects me personally and for which I wish to make a contribution to the public debate: buying local .
In the business world, this trend is the new buzzword, and many consumers are following suit, but little thought has been given to the issue.
Buying local could be a government policy to protect the citizens of a country from the kind of dangers we have seen in the last year. In the event of a global disaster, is our country equipped to meet the basic needs of our people? The answer has been no, and on these issues it is clear that it is the responsibility of our politicians to ensure that all important areas of supply are covered. I hope they do....
Beyond that, if such a policy were put in place, it could limit the carbon footprint of goods we consume; and it would have the effect of supporting the economic structure of our country. There's no question about that. But there is no policy in place: there is only a chaotic watchword interpreted differently by each "consumer". That's why I think it's important to start this discussion (and hope it happens).
Having said that, let's remember that we are responsible for this globalized economy and that for decades (if not longer) we have convinced our fellow inhabitants of this planet to supply us with a multitude of products and services. They themselves have invested in the production of various products and have committed themselves to doing so. How can we turn our backs on them when they need it most? Furthermore, how can we agree to stop buying from thousands of small producers around the world and at the same time agree to continue to buy goods and services from the behemoths of our economy like Google, Netflix, Walmart, and those huge pharmaceutical companies, etc.?
The citizens of our country who wish to support our local economy can only buy what is available. This is where government responsibility comes in: what products can Quebec offer them?
We have seen that individuals are able to make sensible choices in the products they are offered, and that they do so with the help of considerations that are put before them. This is where public discussion is useful. Do we have power over what is made available to us?
There are so many discussions we could have on this subject: about those Quebec businesses that are foreign-owned; about the foreign ownership groups that own almost every fast-food restaurant chain that have all done very well during the lockdown...and that have also received public funding; about the large hotels favoured by the federal government for the return of Canadian travellers; about the Costco and Walmart that stayed open while others had to close, etc. Clearly, many businesses here have suffered and there is little information available to support consumer thinking on this subject, but let me contribute a little from a particular angle: that of solidarity among peoples.
We are going through a pandemic, so it seems to me that we could respond to this catastrophe with a "pansolution"; and with "pansolidarity".
Why not think about setting up a real local purchasing policy, embedded in a vision of solidarity with the world?
We have often seen from afar the horrors of globalization: abuse and exploitation in Middle Eastern textile factories; exploitation of children in cocoa or coffee plantations, etc. Now we have also seen the dark side of globalization in our country and particularly in our most vulnerable population: our seniors. While the lesson is still fresh in our minds, could we take advantage of it and start a true pan-solidarity revolution?
If this statement sounds like a marketing ploy for my vanilla products, at least my business is consistent with this thinking. Moreover, I would add that this business model could be replicated, and here is why:
- In a productive economy, middlemen who speculate on goods are parasites who produce nothing but impoverishment of producers and voluntarily subject products to market variations to get a bigger profit margin.
- In a short circuit economy, we are in direct contact with the producers to better support them, and to ensure quality and regularity. If my supplier in Uganda is struck down by malaria and cannot get to his fields, what can I do to help him rather than buying from his competitor? This question does not arise when buying from a local collector, agency, or distributor. The short circuit economy is not necessarily the distance covered by a product, it is mainly the distance between the producer and the consumer, without going through the multitude of intermediaries. In fact, I'd be curious to calculate the carbon footprint between the Papua New Guinea producer who sells me his vanilla, versus a large wheat producer in Quebec who sells to the co-op, who sells to processors, who sells to distributors, who sells to grocers....
- In a solidarity economy, it is important to support the structure of the exporting country's economy and not to try to shape it according to our North American-centric vision.
Here are some examples:
- In withdrawing from Africa, France took precautions to maintain its privileges on products that were made in the colonies. Also, vanilla is now mostly bought green and unprocessed to be transformed in Europe thanks to an exclusive extraction process whose rights were granted by the European Patent Office to a group of countries and European companies the same year Madagascar became independent. Colibri Vanille refuses to buy green vanilla and only buys vanilla that has been patiently processed for several months in the country of origin to support the local economy;
- Our cocoa and vanilla from Costa Rica are grown in a social democratic country with higher quality of life standards than here. Requiring them to provide us with organic or fair trade certifications negates the efforts of the Costa Rican government to implement reliable ecological and social policies. Yet, this country is the first in the world to obtain the "carbo neutral" rating and to offer this certification to its companies. Let's have the humility to bow to a country that proposes and implements ecological policies superior to ours (and superior to all other countries in the world, although perfection does not exist). Likewise, why would we ask for "fair trade" certification from a country that is fairer than us, that requires minimum wage for all workers, including Venezuelan workers who are paid the same as its own citizen farm workers, pray tell?
Love in small bottles...
Of course, passion. Love. That's right. We work in love, collegiality, joy, fun... from the producers in the world, to our work team here, to our ambassadors on the road. We have fun with all our collaborators. If someone on our team (suppliers, workers, vendors, etc.) isn't having fun, we talk to each other and try to help each other out, no matter where they are in the world... and we have fun!
Here is Joshuas Marmber, treasurer of the Mandi village farmers' group in Wewak, all happy to receive the computer that will help them with their invoices and office work; and myself, touched to the bone to have received a bag (bilium) made in Mandi for Mother's Day...
The vanilla beans are grown there with pleasure and confidence, here they are processed with love and respect, and all those beautiful vibrations are poured into the bottles with their flavor and fragrance.
Have a good summer