My visit to Colombia has come to an end. The only thing left is the long flight home. The impression I got from Proflora and the farm visits, is that the floricultural industry in this country is thriving and very important for the Colombians. Both at an economic and a social level.
On the last day of my trip, I spent the morning visiting Alexandra Farms, together with two journalists from the USA. We were very impressed by this nursery, which is set in the savannah north of Bogotá. The company is spread out over three different locations and they have been cultivating garden roses for cut flowers since 2006. Their four collections include David Austins, as well as roses from Dutch, Japanese, French and German breeders. The roses are sold throughout North America, Europe and Japan.
Owner Jose ‘Joey’ Azout gave us a tour through the greenhouses and the processing area. I’ll write more about Alexandra Farms (named after Joey’s daughter) at a later stage. For now, I would just like to mention a few interesting characteristics of this company.
First of all, we learned that the employees had played an active role in increasing the efficiency in the processing area. “Our employees were able to point out some important details, which people at a higher level in the company weren’t aware of”, explained Joey.
One of the problems that they used to have, was that in the processing area the roses for the Dutch market lost all their leaves, when the Dutch customers in particular, prefer stems with leaves. Another problem was that wastage was quite high. The workers explained that many roses were damaged during processing because they had to pull them from large bunches.
Thanks to a new way of working, that’s all in the past now. The new method means that the roses are now presented in an upright manner, which means that the workers can simply take the first stem that’s in front of them, without damaging the other flowers. In the past, 7% of the roses got damaged, whereas now that’s only 2%. And the biggest gain of the new system is that the overall productivity has increased. The workers (mostly women) have everything they need at hand, in small compartments in their table. No one will ever have to search the entire hall for an elastic band or a label again.
Another detail is that the name of the ‘buncher’ is printed on the inside of the paper that protects the rose buds. Also interesting were all the international flags that hung from the ceiling and the posters, showing happy people, on the walls. Joey: “Our employees are standing at the assembly line all day, whithout knowing where the roses end up or what happens next. We want them to be aware of those things.”
In the car, on the way back, Joey told me that he’d lived in Amsterdam for two years, with his wife and kids. He spoke with great enthusiasm about trips to Maastricht, the Frisian islands and the cheese market in Alkmaar. Hearing these things always help to appreciate your own country again. At one point he even brought up the Saint Nicholas celebrations. Finding myself discussing ‘Zwarte Pieten’ with a Colombian on the way to Proflora in Bogotá, was definitely one of the more bizarre experiences this week.
I finalised my trip with another visit to Proflora in the afternoon. The trade show and the farm visits provided me with a good impression of the Colombian floricultural industry. And that impression is a positive one. Floriculture means a lot to this country. It gives hundreds of thousands of people a future. In addition, Colombia has a strong competitive position. When times were hard, for example because of the strong peso and the American crisis, they spread their risks by expanding their distribution channels. And the growers have started working more efficiently, too.
Since 2014, the peso has been weaker against the dollar, and the Colombians have been making more money. As a journalist, you’re always trying to find the threats of a sector, but I haven’t been able to see too many of those here. Every country has its dangerous areas and finding employees is difficult wherever you go.
One thing that can’t be denied though, is that the future of the Colombian floricultural industry strongly depends on exchange rates. But then again: isn’t that the case for so many places?