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KM Zero

During one of the visits to a department store in Italy, came across this new counter “KM 0”. Got curious with the name and started to talk about it with the staff at the counter. In spite of the limited knowledge of Italian, it generated enough interest & curiosity to request a change in the Dinner Venue to a “KM 0” restaurant same evening.

As I find this concept extremely relevant to the Indian context, sharing here key take-away of trivia and some insights gathered at this discussion over a “KM Zero” dinner.

 “KM Zero” restaurants are considered up-market fine dining destinations and the concept is catching up fast across Europe. Originally started in Italy about 5-6 years back, as a very informal and a social cause in small towns and villages. As a result of typical Italian branding & promotion, what was considered rural and poor has now been duly promoted and turned into a full blown “high-fashion and exotic dining experience”. Italy is one country that has the knack of making a Brand out of almost nothing at all and this phenomenon was no exception. Such a branding, if brings along socio-economic changes for the betterment of people, is a perfect icing on the Cake.

Strictly speaking, the very concept which is now called Zero KM is actually age-old, when there were no facilities for storage and transport of perishable food items. In recent times, technology has made things easy and possible for the perishables to move from one end of the globe to another; and enable storage and shelf-life for months, before they finally get consumed. Therefore “KM 0” is kind of nostalgic and “coming back full circle” in terms of food & dining preferences.

As the name suggest, “KM Zero” restaurants basically offer local stuff on their Menu – means something that is produced, baked, cured, farmed and cultivated in and around an area of say 50 KMs or so –product range include primary food ingredients such as Milk, Fruits, Grains, Vegetables, Cheese, Honey, Oil, Cured Meat, Wine & Liquors etc.

In Veneto region of Italy, this concept officially started off by the Italian Agricultural Union called Coldiretti sometime in 2007. This was an initiative to sensitize consumers to buy local products directly from the farmer’s market and also promote restaurants that served local products. Anywhere within a radius of 50 to 300 KMs is given a “KM Zero” status, depending upon the local regulations of the State. Basically the concept is “Farm-to-Table” - and it comes with direct incentives to both – the farmer and the consumer. The huge costs towards distribution, transport & storage thus saved are passed on to the consumer and in the process of selling directly to the consumer, farmers are also able to enjoy better returns on their produce. Stores dedicating about 30% of their shelf space to KM Zero products are also entitled for incentives such as discounts on property, rentals, parking etc.

I was amazed how relevant this whole concept could be to us here in India as well. Given the kind of diversity and variation that we enjoy in terms of food, eating habits and farm produce by region, we could as well promote a similar concept across India. With very little help from the State, an Amul kind of “KM Zero” farmer’s co-operative initiative, working along the free-market economy model, could bring in some real-time sustainable benefits to the ailing and poor agriculture economy. I am not a specialist on agriculture and hence unable to identify any fault-lines in this concept but from common-sense and a free market perspective, I clearly see the following key benefits:
  • Farmers will get the platform to showcase and sell their products directly to the consumer at market prices.
  • Cash and carry model enables cash payments directly in the hands of the farmers.
  • The long and never-ending distribution chain in “Farm to Table” shrinks drastically thereby removing all agents and middlemen who involve in hoarding and illegal practices, including the State.
  • Consumer would get better value for money as they would buy directly from the farmers.
  • Costs saved on transport, storage, distribution are shared between the farmer and consumer.
  • Direct market access provides key information to the farmers, in terms of consumer preferences, pricing, food habits, buying patterns, demand / supply etc.
  • Consumers get fresh seasonal farm products at reasonable prices, which are currently being sold at a very high premium in the name of “Organic”.
  • Farmers will be motivated to rotate crops by the season to match market trends, requirements and consumer preferences. Advantages of crop rotation are well documented by agricultural scientists.
  • Once farmers get used to the concept and start reaping the benefits of the model, they would be further motivated to move up the value chain and open up restaurants of their own.
This concept could go a long way in empowering the farmer, who currently is the last man standing at the wrong end of the distribution chain. To a large extent, farmer will be freed from the clutches of the "agri-mafia" (goons and middlemen), who in the name of agents and a key link to the Mandi (markets), squeeze them of their life.