An item in this paper last week announced that Moldovan apples would become available in India soon. Moldova, a tiny country in Eastern Europe, tries to adhere global quality standards and meet food safety certifications, as they export to various countries in Europe.
With the Ukraine war disrupting European markets, Moldova is seeking new markets. It had tried to export to India once before in 2018 unsuccessfully due to various regulatory procedures but has now learnt and is confident of making an impact in the Indian market.
The Indian fruit market seems to be getting quite competitive. Various trade agreements and reciprocity measures that we have entered into requires us to allow fruit imports. After all, we want the whole world to buy our mangoes, don’t we? Apples are already being imported from the US, New Zealand, Turkey, Iran and Chile. The Moldovans feel that the taste of their apples and sweetness compares favorably to the ones we get from Turkey, Italy and Poland. Global varieties like Gala and Granny Smith adorn the push carts on street corners.
Moldova is about 6,000 km from Chennai while Kashmir/Himachal Pradesh is about 3,000 km. Credit global supply chains for giving you this choice. Imported apples, according to the same news report, are priced at about ₹140 per kg., while Kashmiri/ Himachali apples cost about ₹90 per kg. Some would say that we are now in a global market.
All products should be available everywhere, if the market so demands them, and the market will price them accordingly. The imported apples may justify the premium pricing, based on taste, shape, nutritional value, the little sticker and Styrofoam packing on them, etc. So says the market.
Let’s take a breather here. What if we were not to rely on the ‘market’ to tell us what we want and at what price? That was Gandhiji’s economic development model which we do not follow, but is a useful strawman to measure ourselves with (pardon the metaphor).
The Swadeshi principle
Gandhiji’s view of globalisation did not require kiwis being air-freighted from New Zealand to all the markets of the world. To quote him: “Man is not omnipotent. He therefore serves the world best by first serving his neighbour. This is swadeshi, a principle which is broken when one professes to serve those who are more remote in preference to those who are near. ..Following this principle, one must as far as possible purchase one’s requirements locally and not buy things imported from foreign lands, which can easily be manufactured in the country. There is no place for self-interest in swadeshi, which enjoins the sacrifice of oneself for the family, of the family for the village, of the village for the country, and of the country for humanity.”
When you buy the local product, even if it is more expensive than the imported one, Gandhiji argued you are supporting your neighbour, you must work for his welfare, and help him make his product better and help her support you in the community. Are you living well when you see the bare-footed fruit seller selling Turkish apples down your street?
The consumerism that the present market fundamentalism has generated has led us down some ugly paths. Manufacturing leading to pollution and wastes that are not degradable. Nobody denies that climate change is causing alarm and seriously questioning the sustainability of our lifestyles. India has now beaten China on population. And we want them — the government and the corporations — to do what is right.
They must have the right policies, generate the right kind of energy, produce responsibly, and so on. What is the individual’s role in this? Is it time to understand the distinction that Gandhiji wanted us to make — do we know the difference between what we want and what we need?
The writer is an emeritus professor at Suffolk University, Boston