A History of the transformation of trade in 10 objects …

The BBC Radio 4’s history of the world in a hundred objects has captivated audiences worldwide with the story of humanity as told through the things we’ve made. Narrated impeccably by Neil MacGregor, the objects range in date from the beginning of human history around 2 million years ago through to the present day.

Here, we take up the story of Logistics with our own top ten of the objects that have transformed the movement of goods from manual handling to the most sophisticated technologies of today.

As the writer Ryszard Kapuscinski observed: the remains of marketplaces, ports, agoras and vestiges of such trade routes as the Silk Road, the Amber Route or, the Trans-Saharan caravan route illustrate; these were places where people met to exchange ideas as well as merchandise and discovered shared goals and values. This is where people discovered within themselves a fragment of the Other or, the foreigner – who they could chose to go to war with; exclude themselves from or, trade with and open up a dialogue. And the connectivity between these places has been one of the great levellers and, multipliers of history. Here’s the ten:

1. Amphora. An amphora is a type of ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body. The Latin word amphora is, derived from the Greek amphoreus (????????), it is a compound word combining amphi- (“on both sides”) plus phoreus (“carrier”) referring to the vessel’s two carrying handles on opposite sides.

 

The Ancient World’s TEU

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Cotton, nature’s pig, and inclusive value chains…

Cotton is natures pig. Everything can be used. First off, the fibres. These soft white threads – over 80% of the world’s natural fibres – cover the seeds and are strong enough to deal with our sweat, the odd spillage of red wine and, be washed and ironed hundreds of times. Even today, when synthetic fibres account for 60% of the market, cotton hangs on to the rest. Then, the seeds themselves. Rich in protein, they become a major part of oil used in foods. Then, what is left over finds itself in soaps or, as feed for cattle. Finally, what is left of the plant itself is used for animals to bed down on or, as kindling for a fire. Cotton planted in April is harvested in October and spun the following Spring. By the time this white gold is processed into fabrics, a full year has passed. Let’s look closer at the logistics dimension and how inclusive value chains can make a difference.

Cotton boll

More inclusive blue sky thinking needed …

Look at the shirt or blouse that you wear and consider the story behind the label and its price. Can you imagine the farmer that seeded the crop and the inputs that were needed to protect this fragile crop? Do we know the impact that pesticides are having on the environment or, what the intense need for water throughout the process – some 2,600 litres are needed per shirt – is doing to water supplies? Are we clear that many farms are forced to use child labour to survive and, that loan sharks are behind much of the cash that finance the crop? There is a catalogue of social consequences that need to be understood and, a lack of transparency throughout the process – often caused by the agents at every step – that makes dealing with the economic, social and environmental challenges so difficult. Continue reading

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Rural craftsmanship at the heart of sustainable development

In the BBC series Lost Kingdoms of Africa, Gus Casely Hayford highlights the ancient crafts of Benin with particular reference to the sophistication of process and design. Transformational Logistics supporters And Albert Foundation (AAF)has championed traditional skills in Africa for many years and in this film AAF founder David Murden draws out comparisons between skilled craftsmen from the North of England with traditional skills in Ghana. This film was made at the annual sheep dog trials taking place on the Lonsdale Estate, Cumbria and on location in Ghana. In the next few weeks, David Murden will lead a team exploring traditional skills some more in a journey from the coast of Ghana into the Sahel mapping the crafts as they move.

Working with the Transformational Logistics team, we are looking to set up an And Albert store, exhibition centre and workshop within the Northern Corridor from Humber to Mersey as a hub for the exploration of traditional skills worldwide. Why not?

We support digital technology across many of our projects but it is time to shout out loud – traditional crafts cannot be forgotten. Richard Sennett in his masterful work The Craftsman (2009)explores the nature of traditional crafts; those that mature through time and can teach far more than delivering output. The trial and error of making things is the stuff of innovation and, working to attain these timeless skills can play a significant role in sustainable communities. Ask a traditional carpet maker in a Kurdish village; a craftsman in bronze in Benin; a wood carver in Komasi; a basket maker in Bolgatanga … what is the added value in their work. The answer is something we need to listen to.

Archomai, AAF and the Hull Freedom Centre are working on a transformational project in the Volta river system from the coast of Ghana to the Sahel in Burkina Faso. The idea is to trace a historic slave trade route from the Sahel villages to the Gold Coast as part of an exciting initiative to develop a viable trade corridor. This is all part of the International dimension of the Northern Gateways initiative based in the North of England.

 

 

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The And Albert Foundation and the Transformational Agenda

Today at the Mercure Hotel in Hull, inspired by David Murden of the And Albert Foundation, financed by the Rotary Club of Hull and East Yorkshire, Rotary International with close links to the Rotary Club of Tamale, Ghana and managed by Jacob’s Well, an ambulance boat built by Hull boat builders Seahorse Marine will set out for King’s Village Hospital in Ghana.

This is part of a wider initiative to draw attention to the potential and the skills that can make these villages sustainable. There have been workshops in schools across the Humber region and more are planned to offer students an insight into how links with Africa can work. Building from the original concept of local networks and the 3 T’s (Trees, Trade and Training), the transformational agenda explores the logistics and capacity building needed to make things happen.

Much has happened to build momentum. AAF has linked to the emerging Global Gateways Federation – a network of like minded regions seeking sustainability through mutually supportive direct trade links. Inspired by the work of Lord Prescott on his Northern Way and anticipating work on the Northern Powerhouse, this work is now led by Jay Myers, former President and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers Federation and an expert on International trade negotiations and networking for SMEs and local communities. David Murden’s work on the Volta river sits well with this transformational agenda.

In the past few months, David’s vision for the Volta trade corridor and the connectivity this can facilitate for the 70 villages he has visited constantly over many years has been adopted by the Rotary Club and the launch today is part of a larger scale project for the construction of boats made in Hull destined for the area outlined in this short film.

The first boat, Wilberforce 1 has been built in Hull by Seahorse Marine and will be sent out to bolster the Medical capacity within the community along this extraordinary Volta river system. David’s insight has galvanised efforts to raise the money to fund the construction of Wilberforce 1 – named after the inspirational figure who was born in Hull just like David. There are plans to link with a parallel initiative for Sierra Leone.

In the coming months, more films will provide an update on the project.

 

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A taste of honey. Transforming an industry from bee to bottle

Jim Brophy taught me the importance of bees. Each morning, he would look to the hives – he had up to 30 – to check the weather. If the bees were out and about there would be no rain. After a day in the fields at Desart in Kilkenny, he would clean his hands with honey;  use it on scrapes or wounds and, on the press next to busts of Napoleon and Padraig Pearse were his prized moulds made out of polished bees wax. He would give talks about plant pollination and how crucial bees are to the harvest and, I recall the wonder of lifting the lid of the hive to see such industry and organisation. *As we develop T L perspectives on high impact industries for the developing and emerging world capable of delivering sustainable and inclusive growth – honey is worth a closer look.

Honey hives

A hive of industry

Honey is big business. Global production of over 1250 metric tonnes generates a $1.5 billion market. Prices vary. China produces over 20% of global production at just over $1,000 per tonne. New Zealand honey fetches over $6,000. Ten producing countries generate over 70% of global production and, the demand far outstrips supply in many countries. The US imports 55% of its demand and this is worth $150 million; the UK produces under 10% and Saudi Arabia 2% of their needs. Honey is a massive opportunity for developing countries to grow an added value agricultural industry at relatively low cost. Let’s look at the history and then, reflect on the potential to use honey to transform a market and boost income for the poor.[1] Continue reading

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Process mapping and heritage crafts can teach us much more

Business is all about innovation and improving on an idea. This means mapping a process from start to finish; exploring ways to improve the route to market. In logistics and supply chain terms seek out ways to make supply chains ever better, cheaper and faster. In other words, work out the best route from primary sources to finished goods; carpets from loom to room; dairy products from the cow to the consumer and so on across all sectors.

These days, much of this work is done by sophisticated supply chain modelling and mapping tools using optimisation software. These past few years, we have been working all over the world in places lacking even the most basic connectivity and equipment. This demands a return to basics using shoe leather to walk the talk and map all sorts of processes on the ground. In Zambia: mapping leather from the herd to the hide; in Ghana, linking basket weaving with leather crafts to produce practical bags with strong leather handles and, in South Africa mapping bakery products through the shanty towns.

Here’s an illustration of the type of work this involves from Rushikonda on the coast of Andra Pradesh. Rob Bell was working with MBA students from GITAM Business School and before a workshop on process mapping and supply chains he was taking a stroll along this glorious beach…

Out at sea he saw a vague image of men working on a boat – it made a terrific photo shot from the shore. Over the next few minutes the boat moved closer to the shore; moved up onto the beach itself; the nets were thrown overboard and then, women arrived to segment the fish into size and specie. Soon agents arrived to haggle over price and then, the men came back to move baskets of fish to the road into town and to the fish market. As the process unfolded, Rob took photos and soon the map took shape. Continue reading

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African Woman Running Against the Wind

In the 13th century, the Edo people living in the Benin Region of present day Nigeria perfected techniques that created some of the most celebrated pieces in archaeology. In 1897 the Benin Bronzes were discovered and taken to the British Museum in London. Back then, colonial experts found it incredible that these “primitive and savage people” were responsible for such sophisticated objects. Some concluded that the Benin knowledge of metallurgy came from the Portuguese. Today it is clear that these were made in Benin from an indigenous culture.

THT is working with the And Albert Foundation on a set of objects from Africa, Asia and South America that illustrate the craft, innovation and sophistication of indigenous peoples. We plan a series of evenings combining the objects themselves with stories giving context, poems giving voice, music and dance to set the perceptive darkness echoing.

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Flower power transforming economies

Mayhews London Labour and the London Poor (1861) describes street folk of the fast expanding capital city with flower sellers as the “aristocracy” of the street; their elevated status due to a combination of wealthy clients and the need to own sheds to store and carts to move their fragile crop avoiding, in his delightful phrase, ”concusive” transit – he may have been anticipating the last mile in Chennai! Mayhew describes in some detail a supply system that, by the end of the 19th century, was copied in the major US cities with horicultural growing centres located within or close to the major centres of population of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.

By the 1950s, the expansion of the interstate highway system facilitated transportation of cut flowers over longer distances with nurseries expanding further afield in Colorado; Denver and California. Today, horticulture has taken advantage of the rocket science of logistics to stretch supply lines into the most remote areas of the globe. It could act as a catalyst to transform Agriculture still further as well as being a testing house for green supply chains along the way. Here’s the story …

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Street markets are transforming the rules – informally

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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Kakania and the challenge of local content

Kakania is a landlocked country in the developing world. Diotima is a traditional fishing village located close to Kakania’s biggest lake inhabited by 50 families; their cattle and, other livestock. The locals are content with their lot fishing and growing enough cereal, vegetables and fruit to eat and, raise their children. The cattle are social assets – which means that they are valued for status; dowries and to honour the dead at funeral banquets. The village is isolated – though one enterprising woman has purchased a mobile phone and makes it her business to store address books for each villager; coordinate remittances being sent from elsewhere and, pull together the needs of the community to be purchased in the nearest town a few miles away every week. Others take their produce to the Northern road close by and set up their charcoal; tomatoes and sweet potatoes to sell to trucks and cars as they pass by on their way to the capital. It has been a tough year.

Coming to a place somewhere far away …

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