Volunteers wear masks at the start of a Covid-19 awareness drive in densely populated Diepsloot in Johannesburg. Picture: AFP/MARCO LONGARI
Volunteers wear masks at the start of a Covid-19 awareness drive in densely populated Diepsloot in Johannesburg. Picture: AFP/MARCO LONGARI

The unprecedented times in which we find ourselves pose a great many opportunities for the ‘buy local’ movement. Local procurement is a proven driver of job creation, as demand for locally manufactured, produced and grown goods stimulates productivity and calls for a larger workforce.

Once life resumes its former economic pace –  to the extent that it does – much work will be required to kick-start the economy again, to put SA and South Africans back to work. Many jobs will have been lost after the Covid-19 pandemic has run its course as many companies, both small and large, will not have weathered the storm.

After the Covid-19 lockdown South Africans must reflect on their priorities regarding purchasing decisions. Prices of goods and services will be vastly altered – the plummeting oil price will likely favour consumers, but they will be hit hard in their pockets for other items whose raw material inputs have become scarce. This means that items that are wholly made in SA are likely to remain stable in price, in contrast with those that rely on imported components or ingredients.

Many countries – SA is not alone – will be using this period to review their reliance on overseas markets for imported goods, services and inputs. The coronavirus pandemic will test many businesses, challenging them to source some of their required raw materials closer to home.

Proudly South Africa began working in 2019 with retailers on identifying a list of FMCG items, including foodstuffs, for the implementation of an import replacement programme, and the current crisis offers us an opportunity to extend this list and look at what on our supermarket shelves is local and what is imported. Which among the imported products can we replace with a local equivalent?

There are many products – poultry and tinned tomatoes are just two – that are almost wholly imported from overseas but which SA has the capacity to source entirely from local suppliers, who produce sufficient quantities of both to satisfy the domestic market. But what reaches our shelves is the responsibility of both the retailers and the consumers who drive demand.

During this lockdown period we have seen a whole host of beautifully shot and crafted adverts – or perhaps we shouldn’t call them adverts, as traditional advertisers have suspended commercial messaging in favour of feel-good, stay-home, in-this-together public service announcements. We saw an unprecedented collaboration between retailers Shoprite, Checkers, Spar, Pick n Pay and Woolworths, whose food sections remain open to keep us fed, nourished and supplied with essential items. The words: “We shall proudly serve” in the fonts and colours of the various stores make their point.

So as we try to look forward to a time when life returns to a regular rhythm (it’s hard to imagine that “normal” can apply here) we appeal to businesses, consumers and retailers to put all their support behind local manufacturers and suppliers. We cannot squander the advantage this pandemic has given us as it demonstrates that we do not need to rely on imports as much as we have to date.

If all the businesses that are showing support for SA at this time of crisis want our loyalty after this is over, they need to change their local procurement mindset. This means not just that retailers should stock more local goods – consumers can’t make local product choices if they can’t find local products readily on the shelves – it means corporate SA should make “buy local” choices through their entire value chain in everything from furniture to stationery, uniforms, detergents and all other daily consumables they require for the functioning of their businesses.

And we as consumers have a choice – to recognise that local really is ‘lekker’ or to go back to our old habits of buying imported goods. After all this is over, not buying local will result in us helping other economies get back on their feet when we should be focusing on our own. Buy local to create jobs!

Proudly South Africa will be at the Future of Media 2020, to be brought to you by Arena Events. For more information about the Future of Media click here.

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