In order to have a true democracy, trade must be removed from the control of the military industrial complex (MIC). The more direct a path we can draw between consumers and producers, the more we can cut out money laundering banks, organized crime, unethical distributors, and the huge chain of the MIC that must be paid for every product that changes hands. Not only do these people collect most of the money involved in trade, they also dictate what the populace will buy, and who they will buy it from. They stand between natural trading partners and prevent the understanding, co-dependancy, and friendship that has traditionally grown from the trust shared in a trade relationship. In a true democracy, people will decide for themselves who to support.
Cutting out the Wal-Marts of the world is very easy. All that is required is some time on a trade site such as Ebay or Alibaba.com. In the case of bulk purchases, only the huge commodities like rice are a little tricky to source directly from the supplier (but they can still be sourced from the importer). The rest are very suitable for fundraising or cooperative groups to import in bulk. Once the supplier is selling directly to the purchaser, there is only the transportation, tax and tariffs between. Most of the general populace is completely unaware of the tax and tariff structures on the items they purchase. Buying directly would greatly increase awareness and encourage people to lobby for trade agreements and tax structures that are reasonable to them.
Relatively unknown and specialty items like celtic salt or soap nuts provide an excellent opportunity for schools or other fundraising organizations. Not only do they offer an opportunity to receive a fair mark-up while providing the product at a very good price, it would teach students a valuable life skill and encourage them to contribute to the economy in a positive way. Instead of acting as a typical parasitic go between, collecting a mark-up while providing no real service, they will be conducting the research, importing the product, taking risk, and creating a market, all valuable services which are fair to charge for. Instead of selling a product without thinking about whether this product would benefit their community, and without knowledge of the conditions the product was obtained under, they can choose a supplier, product, and packaging that they personally believe in.
The following steps may be helpful for a school of other fundraising group to consider what is involved in doing their own farmgate importing.
1. Select a product. Choose something that is not available locally, but which would be of interest to the target market. Choose something that all of the sellers can stand behind and be proud of selling. Choose something small enough that the shipping will not eat up all savings.
2. Research everything about the product, good and bad, potential suppliers, what to watch out for in the product or suppliers, when to buy, etc.
3. Conduct preliminary market research. If the importers do not have the money for a bulk purchase, create a founding members group that will pay in advance to provide money for the purchase. Offer an incentive such as providing the product to them at cost.
4. Research potential suppliers on trade and import sites, or, in the case of very specialized items, from all available suppliers.
5. Draft a list of all questions for the suppliers. Dates and prices (FOB or CIF? to where?), packing, quality, dates of departure and arrival, etc..
6. Research the huge topic of safe buying. Alibaba.com provides a lot of good information on their site, but a lot of it is as common sense as buying from a store. Talk to the supplier you select (chat is available on some sites). Be polite, they are busy and used to dealing with professionals, but if they are ethical they will have information (and their own pictures) of their products and facilities. Research them online, both the company name and your contact. In the end, all online buying is a matter of closing your eyes and diving in, but in many years of doing it I can honestly say that I have not once dealt with a crook, which I cannot say about buying from stores. In the rare case where you do get burnt, ask yourself why? Were you attempting a ‘too good to be true’ purchase? (iPhones from China! Only $10!!) Were you buying a product that is in itself probably a scam (most herbal supplements)? Or did you just not ask enough questions and do enough research into quality and costs? Whatever the case, the amount lost is unlikely to be significant in the long run. Considering the mark-up we usually pay, it is usually possible to be burnt a great many times and still obtain the product cheaper than you would in a store.
7. Research the importing duties and forms for your country or hire an agent and ask them what the fees will be.
8. Decide packaging and a marketing plan, and produce advertising / informational material.
This may sound complicated, especially for a school, but importing is an essential life skill in a true democracy and the only true path to informed consumers. A teacher or parent group may be intimidated the first time they attempt this, but once done, it becomes as second nature as checking the internet for information. And as important in the changing world.