Almost everybody has heard about Colombia coffee, famous for its diversity of flavors – and joy for many coffee drinkers. But Colombia’s exports are not only about coffee – the country is the biggest flowers export after the Netherlands.

It all began in the late 1960’s,  an American horticulture graduate from Colorado State University called David Cheever and three business partners decided to invest in the country’s first flower plantation, with assembly-line practices and modern shipping from Bogota airport. Cheever’s theory was that Colombia had the perfect climate to grow flowers and Bogota’s proximity to the U.S., a country that would become their primary buyer.

Fast forwarding into 1990’s, the flower industry received significant help from the United States – To limit coca farming and expand job opportunities in Colombia, the U.S. government in 1991 suspended import duties on Colombian flowers and that resulted in big business for both countries.

Nowadays, Colombia is the source of 80 percent of the flowers imported by the United States and 60 percent of the carnations bought by Japan.

However, not everything is a ‘bed of roses’ (pun intended) for  the flower growers – the Colombian peso had an increase in value in relation to USD and therefore, their prices lost some of its competitive edge. The solution was to move away from the USD fluctuations and concentrate in other markets such as Russia, Great Britain, Canada, and most recently South Korea.

Furthermore, there are other problems for the industry: the high market demands it requires high rates of productivity, so it is necessary to use fertilizers and other chemical products, potentially causing serious environmental problems on the long term. Also, for the workers, occupational health problems are notorious due to poor posture, and from inhaling of chemicals. Moreover, these workers have minimum wage and long working hours.

Photo: Uniminuto Radio Bogota