‘If I were born in Colombia, I’d be working on a farm’

Imagine being stuck in a stuffy office five days per week, or in a dark factory hall. It wouldn’t be my choice, if I were born in Colombia. I’d rather work on a flower farm somewhere in the green hills.

The great surprise today was a concert by a children’s orchestra. It took place at nursery Rosamina, which is situated in the hills, north of Bogotá. The surroundings were stunning. The girls that gave the concert were from the Santa Maria Foundation, an organisation that supports abandoned, orphaned and underprivileged girls. The foundation’s objective is to help the little girls become well-developed, educated women with high self-esteem and values.

We met them in a hall and listened to them play the cello, violin and flute. Very moving. And impressive how the girls, who all get individual lessons, played together so nicely. The efforts of their conductor, who had been working with them for the past five months, paid off. Although, I do sometimes wonder about the impact of such a wildly gesturing person in front of an orchestra. These girls didn’t seem to be paying too much attention to the conductor at all, they were more focused on their sheet music. But that aside.

I spoke with owner Eli Perez, who started cultivating protea, leucadendron and pink cushion nine years ago. Prior to that, his father and himself grew roses. By the end of this year, he’ll have a 42-ha production and no more roses. Many of his flowers are shipped to the Netherlands, to OZ Import. And another large part goes the the USA.

Perez said he’d be nothing without the people that work at his nursery. It’s one of the reasons why he will always try to give his workers, as well as the area where his company is based, the best possible treatment. He invests in the local area around Rosamina and he supports a foundation in Bogotá, which focuses on helping people with addictions.

Furthermore, Perez tries to keep his employees on board by offering them training. Staff turnover is a big problem in Colombia. People switch jobs very easily. More and more factories emerge in the outskirts of Bogotá and people flock to them because they can earn more money there.

The president of Proflora, Fernando Fonseca, confirmed this image later on, when I was talking with him at the trade show. He said: “It isn’t so hard to find employees here, the challenge is keeping them.”

The turnover of staff at Rosamina isn’t too bad, thanks to the efforts of Perez, who has a great sense of social responsibility. According to him, “Treating your workers fairly does really help.”

Perez’s farm enjoys a wonderful setting in the hills. As we made our way up, the views across the green surroundings became more and more beautiful. All we heard was the birds singing. We breathed in the crisp mountain air. Why would anyone want to work in a factory, just for a few extra cents? Or in an office in the city?

What more could you want, if you can work on a farm in such a magnificent location I wondered, while the van drove us back to Bogotá city. The traffic was moving along terribly slowly. All those hordes of people, so keen to get to the city. Motorcyclists were putting their lives in danger by pushing their way through the long line of cars. Exhaust fumes were obstructing the view from our windows. If I were born in Colombia, I’d be working up in the green hills. On a farm.

Arie-Frans Middelburg


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