Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

Ivan Kashinsky

Colombia is the world's second largest grower and exporter of cut flowers, following closely behind the Netherlands, a country with hundreds of years of experience and tradition in the field. But this economic success has not filtered down through the system as much as one might hope for.~~An industrial estate on the outskirts of the Colombian capital Bogota may not be the most romantic association most buyers of elaborate flower bouquets would want to make with their colourful and fragrant expressions of affection. Yet Colombia has emerged as the second biggest producer of cut flowers in the world, superseded only by the Netherlands, the traditional bastion of flower growing. ~~Colombia now accounts for over 70% of the cut flower market in the USA and an estimated 100,000 mainly female workers, concentrated in a vast expanse of greenhouses and packing plants surrounding the Bogota, work around the clock to churn out seemingly endless variations of loose flowers and bound bouquets.

The economic logic behind Colombia's comparative success in the industry is simple: cheap labour, combined with relatively abundant resources of water and space allow it to produce high quality goods at a fraction of the price of European and other competitors, even taking into account the thousands of miles they have to travel to get to their final destination. ~~But the seemingly beneficial effect of providing hundreds of thousands of jobs and funneling growth potential away from Colombia's other, highly controversial export - cocaine - masks significant risks. Not only do the ever changing, capricious forces of a globalised market economy bring about price instability. The need to remain competitive easily lead to the entrenchment of exploitative employment practices to protect shrinking margins. Flowers consume vast amounts of water and despite relatively plentiful supplies, water shortages are now becoming a problem.~~Colombia's exports of cut flowers are worth US $ 1 billion today. Over the past decade, the country has diversified into producing standardised bouquets rather than only providing vast quantities of popular, loose flowers to wholesalers in the US and Europe. Like many industries that rely on a market advantage based on cheap labour, Colombia's flower producers are walking a thin line between efficiency and exploitation. Lax environmental laws and law enforcement have contributed to exessive amounts of land being earmarked for flowers growing to the detriment of more traditional agriculture. ~~Ivan Kashinsky visited a number of flower producing and packing plants to get a sense of Colombia's most recent export success story.~~A full text is available on request.

 

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      Colombia

      Flower workers wait for busses early in the morning...

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      Colombia

      A load of sunflowers arrives at dawn at the market of...

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      Colombia

      Maria Aguello, 9, picks the petals off roses that...

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      Colombia

      A young girl sits on her family's flower stall in the...

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      Colombia

      Flowers left on cremation urn memorials in the...

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      Colombia

      Carlos Sanchez, 84, waits outside the cemetery at...

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      Colombia

      Workers prepare to spray flowers with chemicals at M...

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      Colombia

      Cristina Beleran inspects flowers for bugs, disease...

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      Colombia

      A worker prepares to spray yellow Gerberas with...

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      Colombia

      Flower workers wait for busses early in the morning...

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      Colombia

      Eliecer Paternina sits in his bed in his room in...

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      Colombia

      Gloria Romero, a flower worker, eats lunch.

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      Colombia

      Men, most of them flower workers, drink beer, relax...

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      Colombia

      Flower workers wait for busses early in the morning...

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      Comombia

      David Cheever, known as the man who brought the...

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      Colombia

      Rodrigo Hernandez Franco fits protective nets over...

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      Colombia

      Green houses near Medellin.

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      Colombia

      Workers listen to a supervisor during a pre-work...

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      Colombia

      Patricia Gomez cuts rose stems in a greenhouse at MG...

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      Colombia

      Workers prepare flowers to leave the plantation in...

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      Colombia

      Buckets of yellow Gerberas in a post-harvest building...

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      Colombia

      Claudia Pantoja, leads an exercise break for workers...

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      Colombia

      Women arrange Thanks Giving bouquets that are bound...

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      Colombia

      Children eat lunch in a creche at M G Consultores, a...

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