Do Endangered Traditional Knowledge Areas Offer a Unique Business Opportunity and Moat?

In a world where technology and modern ways are getting a lot of attention, the rural life, and traditional knowledge has some significant value to offer.

Sai Kumar Chandran

Competitive advantage has been studied and commented on for a long time. There are various models available to create and sustain competitive advantage or what is also referred to as a business moat. Different sources call out a variety of business moats like:

  • Intangible assets moat
  • Switching moat
  • Low-cost provider moat
  • Network effects moat
  • Cultural moat
  • Digital & data moat

My interest today is not to discuss any of these areas, but to inspire your thinking on a possible moat that exists in plain sight for a lot of us, but we possibly have just not paid attention to this opportunity. This opportunity exists for any economy or country where there is a significant amount of rapid urbanisation and migration of the rural population to urban areas still happening. But to help understand this moat, let me first start with a personal story.

About a month back I spent about 15 days in the remote hilly regions of India. During these 15 days we made multiple stops in villages and some tribal areas. I had several conversations with rural entrepreneurs, farmers, animal herders, house & cattle shed builders, experts in herbs and so on. They had fascinating stories to tell, and tremendous amount of knowledge to share. Almost all these people I spoke with, both men and women, were at late stages of their life. Invariably most of them, had children or grandchildren who had migrated to the big cities and traded-off the village life, for a better education, better careers and definitely a better lifestyle with access to amenities. The sad part though of all these stories was that with migration, a tremendous amount of traditional knowledge and know-how of land, animals, jungles, agriculture, living etc. were at the danger of being lost for ever from these families, villages and communities.

It is here that I started wondering, what will happen another 10 to 20 years down the line, when no one will remain in these areas from their family line? What will happen to some of this amazing knowledge and secrets of life?

I saw some evidence with my own eyes.

  • Miles and miles of deserted step farms on beautiful hillsides were waiting for someone to plant the next crop.
  • Knowledge and availability of some amazing herbs, now with no one to be shared with or to be utilised for, had reduced these herbs to mere wild plants.
  • I witnessed some food processing and preservation techniques, which are marvellously simple and cost nothing; plus, they have zero negative environmental impact.
  • I lived in spaces and also saw many dwellings, made completely out of natural material. They were warm in winters, and cool when it was hot. Not only this, if someone were to demolish these dwellings or structures, all that will remain which is natural material ready to mix back into earth.

And I can go on…

But here are some pertinent questions for business owners, or desiring entrepreneurs looking for the next business idea or moat:

  • What can we do to promote eco-tourism or eco-living?
  • What can be the studies or knowledge areas that can be crafted and marketed to ignorant city dwellers?
  • What can we learn in our food and beverage industry from rural living, and create a business model or products?
  • How can traditional agricultural methods, local seeds and varieties of crops be the next million-dollar business idea?
  • What can you bring from traditional dwelling-making skills, to modern living spaces or interior decoration?
  • What are the significant herbs and plant varieties that are abundant in areas close to us? Who or what can these herbs be beneficial for?
  • What are traditional medicinal practices? How can our so-called modern lives benefit from these practices?

These are but a few indicative enquiries.
In a world where technology and modern ways are getting a lot of attention, the rural life, and traditional knowledge has some significant value to offer. In fact, we call it rural and attach a certain backwardness to their way of life. However, a lot of the traditional ways are very scientific and has deep value we have neither understood nor unlocked.

Now you could be a hotelier, travel agent, ecological-living promoter, architect, teacher, social entrepreneur, incubator of business ideas, wannabe entrepreneur or a business person looking for the next business idea. I will only like to leave you with this thought: pay attention to our rural areas and traditional knowledge. There may be a brilliant business idea and also an opportunity to preserve our tradition both waiting at the same time for you.

Sai Kumar Chandran is the founder of OrbitShift. He is a coaching and consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at

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