on South America
by Cynthia L. McGowan
See how Colombia and Ecuador work to grow their share of the
The floral industry is more competitive than ever. The global
economy has made it easy for retailers and wholesalers to get
their flowers from a wide variety of sources, from traditional
suppliers like the United States, Holland and South America to
emerging markets in Africa. And consumers are starting to take
more of an interest in how their flowers are grown. Are the
workers treated well? Are the farms environmentally friendly?
In this special report, Super Floral Retailing takes a look at
what Colombia and Ecuador, the United States’ No. 1 and No. 2
cut flower importers, respectively, are doing to make their
flowers stand out in the increasingly crowded floral arena.
Together, Colombia and Ecuador contribute about 70 percent of
the United States’ total flower supply (domestic production plus
all imports), with Colombia’s share at about 50 percent and
Ecuador’s at 20 percent, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Colombia: strong partnerships
Colombia increased its cut-flower exports to the United States
in 2005 by 23.9 percent from the previous year, sending 3.9
billion stems and bunches and representing 58.1 percent of U.S.
flower imports, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures
show. And Asocolflores, the Colombian Association of Flower
Exporters, has several initiatives aimed at growing Colombia’s
position in the marketplace even more.
good for business
Augusto Solano, president of Asocolflores, says that although
Colombian growers have faced challenges this year such as high
fuel prices and the revaluation of the peso, Colombia’s
currency, recent events bode well for Colombia’s floral
• The re-election in May of Colombian President ˇlvaro Uribe
VČlez. “This will mean more security for the people, more
stability for business, economic growth and a good and stable
relationship with the United States,” Mr. Solano says.
• The successful negotiation of a free-trade deal between
Colombia and the United States. At press time, the U.S. Congress
and Colombia’s government hadn’t yet approved the agreement,
which would make permanent Colombia’s tariff-free access to U.S.
markets. If the deal isn’t approved by Dec. 31, tariffs of 5
percent to 8 percent could be levied on flowers exported to the
United States by Colombia.
“This is by far the most important trade agreement ever signed
by Colombia and that will be signed in the future,” Mr. Solano
says, “because our main trading partner is the United States,
not only for flowers but for many other products.”
Despite these successes, Colombia’s growers have faced
challenges in the past year. High oil prices have affected
growers, mostly in the transportation of their flowers to the
market, as well as in prices for agrochemicals and plastic, Mr.
Solano says. Because the price increases “have been difficult to
pass onto consumers,” he says, growers have absorbed the costs
and offset them, in part, with increased efficiency. However, he
says, if prices continue to climb, it will be difficult for
growers to continue absorbing them.
Another difficult problem is the revaluation of the peso. An
influx of U.S. dollars into the Colombian money supply has
lowered the price of the peso against the dollar, thus squeezing
flower exporters’ incomes.
“Revaluation is the highest hurdle to the trade of our
exportable products,” Ernesto VČlez, president of the board of
Asocolflores, told the group’s annual meeting in March. “We feel
entitled to ask the government and the Central Bank to keep
battling revaluation relentlessly, to defend and allow legal
exporting businesses to prosper.”
Mr. Solano says Asocolflores has taken a leading role in the
effort to fight revaluation by lobbying the government,
sponsoring conferences and hiring economists. “It’s a big issue,
and we’re very much involved,” he says. “For example, at that
annual assembly, there were several government officials there,
so that was the place to say what Ernesto was saying.”
Asocolflores also works with growers to increase Colombia’s
flower selection. “Because the bouquet and the consumer bunch
exports keep increasing, there is always a need for new types of
fillers,” Mr. Solano says.
Indeed, Colombia’s bouquet exports to the United States
increased 181.9 percent in 2005, to 252.3 million in 2005 from
89.5 million in 2004, according to the USDA. To help growers
meet the demand, Asocolflores last year created Ceniflores, the
Colombian Center for Innovation in Floriculture, to develop
improvements in production, technology, sanitary issues and
Colombia’s efforts to diversify its selection appear to be
paying off. While roses remain the top cut-flower export to the
United States—increasing some 29 percent in 2005 to nearly 1.4
billion stems—some specialty flowers desired for upscale
bouquets have made strides. Lilies were up 34.1 percent in 2005
to 4.7 million stems, callas were up 22.5 percent to 45.8
million stems and Gerberas increased 8.5 percent to 72.0 million
stems, USDA figures show. Orchids, while still a small crop
overall, increased 49.4 percent in 2005 to 1.1 million stems and
spreading the word
To get the word out about Colombia’s diversified selections,
Asocolflores attends major floral trade shows such as The Super
Floral Show in the United States and the International Horti
Fair in Amsterdam and travels to markets like Russia and Japan.
But the grower association isn’t content just to raise the
profile of Colombian flowers. Asocolflores also is a partner in
several programs aimed at increasing flower consumption in the
United States. Mr. VČlez told the Asocolflores annual meeting in
March, “The demand for flowers in the United States, our main
market, seriously affects the future of floriculture.”
To grow consumption, Asocolflores is a major supporter of the
Flower Promotion Organization (FPO) and has helped finance the
Society of American Florists’ (SAF) Public Relations Fund, two
U.S. efforts to boost consumers’ interest in flowers. It also is
one of the partners in the new Floral Marketing Funding
Coalition Initiative, which seeks funding for programs to boost
spending on flowers in the United States. Says Mr. Solano, “We
really believe in promotion.”
• Colombia is the world’s second-largest flower exporter, behind
• Colombia sent 85 percent of its cut flower exports to North
America in 2004.
• Flowers are Colombia’s No. 2 agricultural export, behind
• Floriculture accounts for 111,000 direct jobs and 94,000 jobs
that depend on the industry; 60 percent of the direct jobs are
held by women.
• More than 17,000 acres are devoted to flower production.
• Roses represented 32 percent of Colombia’s flower exports in
• Asocolflores has 215 member companies, representing 308 farms
and 9,800 acres.
Sources: Asocolflores, the Colombian Association of Flower
Asocolflores, the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters, is
planning Proflora 2007, which will be Oct. 3-5, 2007, in
Cartagena, Colombia. “We make it better every time,” Augusto
Solano, president, says of the biennial trade show.
Proflora 2005 drew 210 exhibitors and 5,000 visitors, including
1,077 international visitors. Mr. Solano expects to have more
exhibitors in 2007, including some from other countries, which
will be a new feature.
Mr. Solano says the 2005 event was a great success. “The main
point of something like Proflora is to do business,” he says. “A
lot of people did real business during the trade show. We’re
very satisfied because of that.”
For more information about Proflora 2007, contact
email@example.com, or go to
Ecuador: on the move
According to Expoflores, the Ecuadorean Flower Growers and
Exporters Association, Ecuador’s flower industry has grown from
$59 million in exports in 1994 to $354.6 million in 2005, a
sixfold increase. Ecuador’s success is “a dream come true,” says
BolĚvar Cevallos, Expoflores’ president of the board.
Ecuador supplied 23.2 percent of all U.S. cut flower imports in
2005, sending 1.56 billion stems and bunches here for an
increase of nearly 28 percent from 1.22 billion stems in 2004,
USDA figures show. Helping fuel that increase was a 207.3
percent rise in bouquet exports to the United States, from 19.9
million in 2004 to 61.3 million in 2005.
Roses, Ecuador’s No. 1 flower export, also saw a large boost,
from 915 million stems in 2004 to 1.1 billion in 2005, a 20.8
percent increase. Gypsophila is Ecuador’s No. 2 crop, and its
exports to the United States increased 145 percent, from 20.9
million bunches in 2004 to 51.2 million bunches in 2005.
growing more products
But Ecuador’s growers realize that diversification is the key to
continue their industry’s growth. The country saw a rise in
exports of several specialty cut flowers last year, USDA figures
show. Callas were up 69.4 percent, to 18.7 million stems, from
2004’s 11.1 million stems. Delphiniums grew 39.4 percent to 33.0
million stems from 23.7 million in 2004. Irises, while still a
small crop at 4.3 million stems, grew 39.5 percent from 2004.
Expoflores is getting help with its promotion efforts from the
Corporation of Export and Investment Promotion (Corpei), the
country’s private, nonprofit export-promotion agency. Executive
President Ricardo Estrada says diversification is one of the
reasons Ecuador’s flower industry is growing, and his agency is
helping farms expand their products.
New markets also are important to Ecuador’s growth, Mr. Estrada
says. Ecuador exports flowers to 72 markets worldwide, including
supplying Russia with some 80 percent of its rose imports,
Expoflores figures show. The United Kingdom, Sweden, the Middle
East and Japan are just a few of the regions that import
“We have positioned Ecuador’s flowers as a high-quality
product,” he says. Expoflores and Corpei tout the country’s
geographic advantages, which include 12 hours of intense
sunlight a day and a multitude of microclimates that allow a
wide range of flowers to be grown.
importance of free trade
To keep Ecuador’s momentum going, both Corpei and Expoflores are
counting on the United States and Ecuador to sign a permanent
free trade agreement. Under the current deal, which expires Dec.
31, 2006, Ecuador pays no duties on its exports to the United
States. At press time, the talks were stalled after a dispute
over a U.S. oil company in Ecuador.
Mr. Estrada is blunt about the impact on growers if the trade
deal is not approved. “It will be impossible to compete with
Colombia” if Ecuador has to pay tariffs of as much as 6 percent
on its flowers, he says. Colombia and the United States have
negotiated a deal, but it still had to be approved by both
governments at press time.
The impact on Ecuador’s economy also would be severe, Mr.
Estrada says. The flower industry employs 60,000 people, 60
percent of them women, and accounts for 100,000 jobs that depend
on floriculture, Corpei figures show. Flowers have meant
good-paying jobs in rural areas, where in the past, jobs were
scarce, says Juan Reece, administrative manager for Expoflores.
The farms employ an average of 15 people per hectare (one
hectare equals 2.47 acres).
investment in the future
Flowers’ impact extends beyond the farms. A big project under
way is the building of a new airport near Quito, the capital.
“The new airport depends on flowers to exist,” Mr. Reece says.
Currently, the floral industry in Ecuador generates $160 million
a year for air transport companies, with 90 percent of the
volume going through the Quito airport, Expoflores says.
The new airport will have a longer runway, allowing airplanes to
have more cargo capacity, which will lower transportation costs
for exporters. Mr. Estrada says freight costs from the current
airport are 40 percent higher than those from Colombia.
The airport is being financed entirely from private funds, says
Gustavo M. Pinto of Corporation Quiport S.A., the airport
administrator. Already, private investors have put $35 million
into the project.
Construction has started, and the first phase is expected to be
complete by 2010, with three more phases planned. When the first
phase is finished, the new airport will serve 50 percent more
passengers than the current airport, Mr. Pinto says. The airport
will occupy 3,700 acres, 10 times more than the current airport.
“We’ve needed a new airport for about 20 to 25 years,” Mr. Pinto
• Ecuador is the world’s third-largest flower exporter, behind
Holland and Colombia.
• The United States receives nearly 75 percent of Ecuador’s
• The flower industry accounts for 3 percent of Ecuador’s gross
• Floriculture accounts for 60,000 direct jobs and 100,000
indirect jobs that depend on the industry.
• More than 11,000 acres are devoted to flower production.
• Roses comprised 76 percent of Ecuador’s flower exports in
• Expoflores has 160 member companies.
Sources: Corporation of Export and Investment Promotion (Corpei),
Expoflores, the Ecuadorean Flower Growers and Exporters
La Flor de Ecuador, Agriflor 2006
La Flor de Ecuador, Agriflor 2006, the biennial cut-flower trade
show organized by Expoflores, the Ecuadorean Flower Growers and
Exporters Association, and†trade show company HPP Ecuador, will
be Oct. 4-7 in Quito, Ecuador, and sponsors expect more than 150
growers to exhibit their flowers.
Expoflores board member Rodrigo Carrillo says the show will
present “a strong industry, with brand new varieties and quality
as only we do because we are located in the middle of the world
at 2,800 meters of altitude.”
The 2004 trade fair had 400 visitors from 30 nations, and Mr.
Carrillo expects the number of visitors to double this year.
Features will include:
• Tours of flower farms in five growing regions around Quito
• Grower and breeder competitions
• A Novelties Pavilion showcasing new cut flower varieties
• A seminar on “Development of New Varieties of Flowers,”
focusing on the increasing production of Ecuador’s small- and
• A negotiation area for buyers and vendors
• An international flower party
Mr. Carrillo says the show will benefit mass-market buyers
because they can “contact directly the producers and see for
themselves new varieties, best prices, trends, colors and
Admission is free to qualified buyers if they register in
advance. A $20 fee will be charged for on-site registration or
for registrations taken after Sept. 29. To register, go to
Colombia: leaving no farm behind
Asocolflores, the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters, has
several programs, all with the goal of promoting sustainable
floriculture with social responsibility.
The “FlorverdeĆ,” or “Greenflower,” program, which will mark its
10th anniversary in October, requires member farms to adhere to
a code of conduct that includes responsible stewardship of the
environment and social advances for workers and their families.
For workers, that means safety and training programs, fair
wages, no employees younger than 18, housing, child care and
recreation time. For the environment, it means integrated pest
and disease management, waste management and programs to
preserve Colombia’s biodiversity.
Companies must go through a lengthy process to gain FlorverdeĆ
certification, which is verified by an independent audit
company, SociČtČ GČnČrale de Surveillance (SGS) of Geneva,
Switzerland. Juan Carlos Isaza, manager of FlorverdeĆ, says of
144 farms in the program, 72 have been certified by SGS,
representing 1 billion stems of flowers a year and 3,548 acres,
or about 20 percent of Colombia’s flower-producing land.
Seventeen farms joined the program just in May, beginning the
process to certification.
That process starts with an evaluation, performed both by
FlorverdeĆ and the farm. The data is then presented to the farm,
whose management decides upon an action plan, facilitated by
FlorverdeĆ. Throughout the certification process, FlorverdeĆ
provides advice, training and resources.
FlorverdeĆ collects information monthly from all the farms in
the program on pesticide use, employee turnover, accidents, and
other social and environmental indicators. “We have a lot of
information about those farms, and we make a benchmark and
identify which farms are strong, what issues there are ... so
then the association can have a clear view of where its mission
can be executed,” Mr. Isaza says.
The main mission, Mr. Isaza explains, is to improve the social
and environmental performance of flower growers in an entire
region, not just one farm at a time. “Our issues are wider
because we don’t want to leave anyone behind,” he says.
Benefits to farms for joining FlorverdeĆ are threefold, Mr.
• First is the FlorverdeĆ label, which is gaining increasing
recognition in the marketplace, especially by United Kingdom
retailers like Asda (the British arm of Wal-Mart) Tesco, Marks &
Spencer and Sainsbury. Mr. Isaza acknowledges that FlorverdeĆ
still is getting the word out to U.S. consumers. FlorverdeĆ also
is working to gain recognition by EurepGAP, The Global
Partnership for Safe and Sustainable Agriculture. (For more
information on EurepGAP, go to
• A second benefit is the advice and training the farms receive
• The third benefit is the feedback reports the farms receive.
“They can compare themselves to more than 100 companies to see
how they are performing,” Mr. Isaza says.
FlorverdeĆ also promotes beauty in the workplace as a benefit to
workers. “A principle of FlorverdeĆ is that flower farms should
be beautiful,” Mr. Isaza says, “because they are producing a
Other important Asocolflores programs are:
The School of Floriculture It trains people who have been
displaced by violence in Colombia’s countryside to work at
flower farms. In May, Asocolflores and The Pan American
Development Foundation (PADF), with a grant from the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID) agreed to implement the
second phase of the program. The first phase, which began in
2003, benefited 1,150 families, Asocolflores says, and the
second phase is expected to help an additional 1,380 families.
Cultivating Peace in the Family This program, which also is
assisted with a grant from the USAID, teaches families to
resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways.
Augusto Solano, president of Asocolflores, says the U.S. grants
are a significant endorsement of the programs. “It is really
difficult to get these types of funds,” he says, “and this says
a lot about the quality and the importance of these programs.”
Ecuador: encouraging opportunity
The flower industry has meant opportunity to many rural
Ecuadoreans who otherwise would have had to leave the country to
find better jobs, says Juan Reece, administrative manager for
Expoflores, the Ecuadorean Flower Growers and Exporters
“Expoflores has an ethical commitment” to the nation’s 60,000
floriculture workers, he says, and toward that end, it has
several programs promoting social and environmental
responsibility. Expoflores’ “La Flor de Ecuador,” or “The Flower
of Ecuador,” program is mandatory for all 160 members,
monitoring farms through audits and electronic verification in
such areas as pesticide use, worker safety and training, and
community development programs. Companies that meet the
standards receive La Flor de Ecuador certification.
“We’re very proud of our flowers,” Mr. Reece says. “We also want
to be proud of having a very clean environmental program.”
Super Floral Retailing toured three farms that boast good
records on social and environmental issues during an April visit
to Ecuador: Esmeralda Farms in El Quinche, Nevado Ecuador in
Latacunga and Sierraflor in Lasso. All have received various
“green-label” certifications, including endorsement from the
Flower Label Program (FLP), the German label attesting to good
worker and environmental conditions.
“At Esmeralda Farms, our people are our single, biggest asset.
We feel our commitment to social initiatives motivates people to
perform their daily functions to the best of their ability,
which results in the absolute highest quality product,” owner
Peter Ullrich of Miami, Fla., says of the company, which
recently received certification from Veriflora, the U.S. label.
Concurs Pablo Viteri, general manager of Esmeralda Farms’
operation in El Quinche, “Our work is based on teamwork.”
At Nevado Ecuador, the farm’s motto is “Roses with a
Conscience™,” and owner Roberto Nevado has received green-label
certification for the farm under eight separate certifying
agencies. His next goal is to go completely organic, which he
expects to complete within a year. But Mr. Nevado thinks the
standards for companies seeking organic status should be
strengthened. “My proposal would be that any farm that wants to
be organic should be certified first,” like his, he says, to
ensure organic farms are being socially responsible, as well as
At Sierraflor, owner Tatyana Trepp led a tour of the on-site
school and child care center. The school serves 90 children from
ages 2 months to 11 years, and a high school is under
The farm has hired top-notch teachers from Quito to give the
children a high-quality education. Lessons, which cover the
basics from table manners to advanced subjects like higher math,
are conducted in English and Spanish. Says Ms. Trepp, “If you
have another language, you can do whatever you want.”
The school costs just $5 a month for the families but costs
$12,000 a month to run. The farm has established a foundation,
Sierraflor Foundation, that takes donations and volunteers to
help its mission. Ms. Trepp says, “The only way to make a change
in the country is with education.”
Another change Expoflores is working on is eradicating child
labor on farms. Elba G·mez, technical secretary for the
Floriculture Social Forum, which is implementing the program for
Expoflores, explains that some Ecuadoreans feel children should
help support their families. Through workshops and
communication, she says, the program aims to “change this
Under Ecuadorean law, children ages 15 to 18 can work under
limited conditions. The Expoflores program aims to ensure that
no children younger than 15 are working and that workers ages 15
to 18 are in suitable conditions, which means no operating
vehicles, no fumigation and no cold-room work. The program also
works with 15- to 18-year-olds by encouraging them to stay in
Mr. Reece of Expoflores says the program is important to his
organization: “We do not want to see children working at flower
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