Michael: Colombia is not the largest dealer of flowers in the world but the business is a multi-billion dollar one for the country. The industry employs about 172,000 workers mostly around Bogotá. If you receive roses in the U.S.A. on Valentine’s Day there is about a 70% chance they came from Colombia.
But the day of love is not the only big one for growers. The South American country also covers a great many of the carnations for Mothers Day.
The business, that started about 40 years ago was the brainchild of an American student. He figured out that the sabana around the capital city has the perfect environment for growing flowers year round. Though it is 8,600 feet above sea level it is near the equator. The weather is excellent for keeping the mountains green and flowers growing.
Proximity to the U.S.A. is another factor for the business. Roses can be cut in the morning, put on a plane in Bogotá and arrive in Miami in the afternoon. China tries to break into the American rose market, but the amount of chemicals necessary to keep the blooms fresh for the long trip ruins the smell.
Graciela: About 70% or more of the workers are single mothers. Working with flowers gives them a higher income than being a maid or working on farms.
Michael: The industry has not been without it’s growth problems. There have been unscrupulous employers and environmental issues as happens in any country and with many businesses. Colombia and the flower growers have done much to improve conditions. Many places have joined flower certification programs like Veriflowers and Fair Trade flowers. The plastic greenhouses that stretch for acres in the sabana are designed to catch and use rainwater so as to not hurt the ground water.
Graciela: Many places not only provide on-site day care services but also give breakfast to the workers and offer a reduced price lunch. Some even aid in the education expenses of those with school age children.
Michael: When you give roses for Valentine’s Day not only are you helping many Colombian women with a job, but the shipping of the flowers and transportation adds $7 billion for U.S. workers.
Graciela: Americans are not big flower givers. The Swiss spend about $122 a year on flowers while Americans average about $29. Just know that the roses you give for Valentine’s Day and the carnations given on Mothers Day helps many people and the economy of both countries.