The idea that a business can grow from its own market can be best exemplified in the dichotomy between America and China. Goods from China have a 35% guaranteed market locally while goods from the USA have 70% guaranteed market locally. Thus, the US can easily survive on its own. It actually did prior to World War I.
Kenyans need to figure out how to increase local market for its goods through, for example, more advertising of the products both online and offline. Labeling products can be a key winner.
This is where you walk into a wholesale or supermarket display store and see a product its point of origin among other details. For instance, it would indicate that tomatoes have been produced in Kingangop. Such information would even go further. It would be possible to include the contribution these farmers are making to the economy. For instance, the same farmers in Kinangop could be contributing 12% of the total tomato produce in the country. With more data, more details are then published.
Doing this requires deliberate efforts by the government, retailers and farmers. For instance, farmers will need to provide accurate data on earnings or profits. Government will also need to undertake periodic data collection and publications.
There are a few wins from this approach. One, it will help spur informed consumers. The buyers of these products will see where their money is going and its contributions to the farmers, society and economy. It is likely that should quality be maintained and the right price, they will buy a product that is helping grow the local producers.
Secondly, by buying more local products, farmers not only have more cash at their disposal, but their expansion will result in creating employment for the locals. Farming creates the most jobs in Kenya and it makes sense to push this to full actualisation and even surpass it.
Thirdly, the collected data ensures better planning by farmers on production. Government will better plan for the development. For instance, it can know when to bring in fertilisers and whether to subsidise them or not. Banks will also be able to establish which sectors are more attractive to their investments so they can support them with credit.
Fourthly, this will reduce imports of products available locally. Most big retail outlets especially supermarkets buy goods that are locally available abroad. If customers develop preference for local products, this will change. Even if these supermarkets decline to label products in their outlets, they will follow the new trend since their main concerns in increasing their bottom-line.
It can start with the very small retail outlets in towns. Each region would need to publish its local data to grow the local industry.
Shitemi Khamadi is a Nairobi-based journalist and commentator.
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