Today, we are able to buy Chinese pears, Japanese cars and Dutch cheese. How is it possible?

Movement is a major theme in geography. It includes the movement of material (raw materials, manufactured goods, agricultural products), ideas (innovations, fashions), people (international migration, intra-national or within-country migration, temporary migration, commuting), information (prices of stocks and shares, the routes of transportation vehicles such as buses, trains, aircraft, ships), natural entities (animals, water, air, tectonic plates).

Since the 1990s, India’s markets have rapidly opened up to importing goods. What kept those imports low before? India had erected many invisible barriers to movement — high taxes on imported goods, complicated license procedures, limits on quantities of goods that could be imported, etc.

So, for example, Washington apples and Chinese pears, Japanese cars and Dutch cheeses were not coming into the country. These barriers were reduced or lifted in the 1990s.

Now, Japanese vehicles and machinery are assembled in India, often in collaboration with Indian companies. For example: Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd. near Bangalore manufacture Toyota cars; Volvo, a Swedish company, manufactures buses near Bangalore; Hyundai Motors, a South Korean company, has a car factory near Chennai. These are possible because India has been making it easier for foreign companies to build their own factories here, to collaborate with Indian companies and providing land at cheap prices.

Travel time

You can buy Washington apples, Chinese pears and other ‘exotic’ fruits even from street vendors now. What are the enabling factors in this case? Chemical preservation technology allows unripe apples and other fruits to be harvested and made available in distant places; this increases the shelf-life of these perishable items. Large quantities of the harvested apples are treated with chemicals and kept in specialized containers at low temperatures. They are exported to distant countries, such as India. Here, they are unpacked and transported in large quantities to wholesale markets to be sold in large quantities. Retailers buy from the wholesalers and sell it in shops or on carts by the roadside.

These apple-carrying ships would have to travel a long distance from Washington to India. But another geographic feature helps us reduce this distance. It’s the isthmus (from Greek isthmos, meaning ‘neck of land’) — a tiny strip of land that connects two larger pieces of land with water bordering on both sides.

The Isthmus of Panama is crucial in this. Here the Panama Canal was opened on, get this, August 15, 1914. The Suez Canal already existed (from 1869, the year in which Gandhiji was born).

These two canals make it possible for ships to avoid having to travel long distances around Cape Horn (southern tip of South America) and the Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of Africa) — where the seas are extremely rough! Before these two canals, the distances and the rough seas were great physical barriers to the movement of Washington apples to India. Thanks to technological advances and removal of invisible barriers in India, we now get apples from Washington any time of the year.

But are they healthy?

The writer is Founder, Director of The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies, Bangalore.

Geographic exploration:

Why are ships used to transport apples and similar items instead of aircraft? Wouldn’t it be faster to use aeroplanes?

Why are the seas so rough around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn?

On a globe, try to trace the routes the ships would take to bring apples from Washington to India if the two canals were not there.

Why don’t the ships avoid the rough seas of Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope by simply going through the northern hemisphere?

Which is the Washington mentioned in this article? How is it different from any other Washington you may find on a map?

Send your answers and thoughts to geo@tiigs.org and it will be published in the blog.

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