There’s an enormous tragedy going on in the flower industry

What are your coronavirus numbers like today? It’s become one of the standard questions during the daily phone calls to our branches. The coronavirus is with us all day, every day. It might sound strange, but after nearly three weeks of self-isolation and working from home, I’ve started to get used to it. Less than a month ago, we were in the middle of our peak for International Women’s Day. How the world has changed since then!

Ecuador was very quick to take measures. None of this ‘let’s wait and see’. Immediate action! A complete lockdown. Everyone had to stay at home, the schools were closed, shops were closed, face masks were made mandatory, etc. After the first patient was diagnosed on 29 February, it all went very quickly. Our second case came from the Netherlands: a tourist from the province of Noord-Brabant, who was travelling around Ecuador.

The country was in lockdown before we’d even reached 20 infections. The rest is history. At the moment, we’re only allowed to do grocery shopping twice a week, cities are cut off from each other, and there’s a curfew that starts as early as 2 p.m. every day. I get the impression it’s working, because Quito reports hardly any new infections. However, 400 km away from us in Guayaquil, the country’s second largest city, things are more worrying. It seems like the population there hasn’t been taking the rules as seriously.

Meanwhile, there’s an enormous tragedy going on in the flower industry. Both in Ecuador and in Colombia. Most of the work at the flower farms has come to a halt and most flowers are going straight to the compost heap, just like in many other parts of the world. Pre-sold flowers are the only ones that are still being processed at the moment. The hardest thing for us traders is that there are still markets with a demand for flowers, but they can no longer be reached due to the large number of flights that have been cancelled.

Let’s draw hope from the situation in China. At the end of January, China was the first country we could no longer supply to, but ironically, it’s currently one of the few destinations where the demand for flowers is starting to grow again.

Just like in Kenya, growers in Ecuador can’t count on support from their government. The treasury is empty, the oil dollars have all evaporated and the reserves were spent on mismanagement during the past decade. Who will be able to keep their head above water here? The crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time; many growers are still waiting for the payments for their Valentine’s Day and International Women’s Day sales. And after last October’s protests, this is the second blow in a short time for the Ecuadorean flower industry.

The uncertainty rules. And one thing is for sure: things will never be the same again.

Victor van Dijk

Area manager South America, FleuraMetz

Click here to read more blogs from Victor

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