The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me–
And then didn’t.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as “perfect.”

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light–
And the trees waiting for the night. 

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It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who referred to “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” in a radio address in 1932, but the late CK Prahlahad who brought it into the business arena with his book the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. The idea was compelling. The Bottom of the Pyramid, or just BoP; is the largest, but poorest socio-economic group globally, who live on less than $2.50 per day. Prahlahad’s book triggered a huge debate on developing new models of doing business targeting this demographic group – selling low margin products in high volumes to consumers at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. 

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Years ago I worked in Moscow and was amazed at how many “Remont” or repair shops there were and, how many women carried empty shopping bags – just in case. Making do was a way of life in Soviet times but the Remont shops closed as the throw-away society came in. Jugaad, a common-sense approach to making do is the Indian way.

Now for the factories

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In an interview with the Indian Economic Times [03/03/12] Marc Llistosella, CEO of Daimler Commercial Vehicles (India), made it clear. His company would support a hike in diesel prices and an increase in excise duties on diesel vehicles. In other words, India’s logistics infrastructure is poor; policy measures to remove interstate taxes and create a single internal market are log jammed and post-harvest losses are over 40% on the route to market. The list goes on. The hike in diesel will help to bring matters to a head. India has to sort out its supply chains or risk losing out to global competitors. Let’s look at this in terms of costs.

Indian transport costs at 13 per cent of GDP are higher than the USA, 9% GDP and the EU, 11% [2010 figures]. Mind you, China’s figures are far higher but this is distorted by the sheer scale of their manufacturing industry. It costs more on transport to be the factory than the office of the world. The real numbers come from each individual supply chain in its proper context benchmarked against peers.

It is not as simple as saying that Indian logistics costs are too high. Whilst many studies talk of waste in the supply chain; walk around the streets and hawkers are not selling rotten fruit or vegetables. Go to Temples and see the array of fresh flowers and go to farmers markets to see what is available. Transport in India works – after a fashion. It is the same with traditional retail. Few modern retail models can match the home delivery and credit services that are out there. But India is entering a different phase. Even the kirana stores can benefit from better logistics. Look at those that now benefit from cash and carries – their very own regional distribution hubs! Logistics and supply chains are not just about big business.

For a moment let’s imagine that all the players are the same but, we change a few of the rules for a better game – see how cricket overtook hockey and now, how hockey is fighting back. No one can stand still. In India, policy – the rules of the game – plays a big role in success or failure. The delays on the GST (Goods & Services Tax – otherwise known as VAT) tax are costing the country badly. GST is a long overdue change in the rules that will level the playing field. This is India’s most far-reaching tax reform and aims to integrate the country into a common market by dismantling fiscal barriers between states.

This will all go ...

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Kariakoo Market in Dar es Salaam is for locals, it is not the place for tourist trinkets. Since 1974, it has been a hub for local informal trade and with East and Central Africa. With daily business transactions of about $10 million and over 55,000 visitors daily Kariakoo is the centre of all kinds of businesses: estate development, banking, consultancy and shopping malls, buzzing with deals from street traders to business tycoons. The market also attracts customers from as far as Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe among other countries.

Kariakoo Market in Dar es Salaam

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On the dining room table a candle burns, the house is silent and yet, this is far from romantic. It is a weekday morning in Chennai, South India and the computer on the table is running out of battery; all of the electrical appliances in the house lie still and living in one of several apartment blocks clustered together; natural light is poor. Welcome to the age of the power outage: up to 2 hours scheduled; sequenced by zones to share the burden and, even more that is not expected from time to time.

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Earlier today, Rob Bell gave a talk on the International Logistics scene to Faculty and MBA students at AMET  University and, moved to a discussion of Transformational Logistics and the Indian logistics and supply chain landscape.

The session opened with a review of the evolution of supply chains from the spice routes to today – via Napoleons military logistics; cowboys losing out to the railroad in the Wild West of 19th century America and on to containerisation revolution of the 1950’s. A key shift has been the integration of markets from globalisation and, the specialisation of the logistics function enabled by technology supporting this “new rocket science”. The segmentation of products (and ways to deliver them to the consumer) into Agile (those with high variability) and Lean (you can have any car as long as its black said Henry Ford) products was covered and the role of logistics as a differentiator was highlighted. As Professor Martin Christopher makes plain: “supply chains compete, not companies.” Logistics is part of any companies competitive edge.

The last mile counts ...

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Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has said of India that there are some places resembling Sub Saharan Africa and others California. Bangalore is one of the places he had in mind. Home of major Multi Nationals and leading Indian Corporations like Infosys, the place has the feel of a high tech hub. Some would say that this is at the expense of Indian authenticity and others, are disappointed that Bangalore is busy losing its Indian heritage in a rush to be the modern showcase.

Recently, there has been increasing coverage of the decline of once legendary markets like Jayanagar, Russell and Malleswaram which still dot the city but only as poor remnants of what they once were. “Our markets were wonderful places with beautiful buildings. Now, they have been reduced to garbage dumps. In developed countries, markets are tourists attractions but we have let them be controlled by the mafia and are allowing valuable property in prime locations to be rented out for paltry sums. The BBMP (Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation) should instead treat the markets as valuable real estate and as the city’s pride,” says ABIDe member, R.K Misra. ABIDe is an initiative to address the urban chaos of Bengaluru.

KR market Bangalore

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The T L Blog is delighted to introduce a new contributor – Tielman Nieuwoudt. Based in Johannesburg and for several years working out of Vietnam, Tielman brings a huge level of experience in frontier markets to the TL table. This and other posts to follow have featured on the Supply Chain Lab Blog previously. And so to Africa …

With low projected growth in the US and EU, and the realization that the BRIC countries won’t be able to do it all on their own, there is renewed interested in Africa. It is a continent with enormous potential with some of the fastest growing economies on the planet. However, for any company new to the African continent, there are a number of challenges to consider.

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