The pandemic, then the war in Ukraine and more recently the indigenous protests. It would be difficult for an activity to recover from so many ills, but the Ecuadorian flower growers they manage to jump from crisis to crisis to bring their precious roses to the world.
And it has not been easy. COVID-19 partially paralyzed sales, the conflict caused shipments to Russia and neighboring countries to drop, and the indigenous people, with their roadblocks in June in protest at the cost of living, dealt a new blow to the sector.
“We have experienced many local and international crises. We live in a crisis, but we know how to handle it,” says Eduardo Letort, manager of the firm Hoja Verde, which produces some 35 million stems of 120 varieties of roses each year.
Fourth source of sales revenue, roses moved US$927 million in 2021, a historical record.
“These have been very hard years, but flower companies are very resistant. We have managed to adapt, we have become much more efficient, ”adds the businessman, guiding AFP on a tour of his farm in Cayambe, an Andean town near Quito.
As indigenous anger was building, protesters turned on the roses. The images released on social networks shook the union of producers and exporters.
“They BURN our flowers,” Expoflores denounced on Twitter, which released a video in which boxes used to transport roses appear on fire in a bonfire amid protesters.
Some crops also rotted and ended up in “garbage,” according to that association.
Despite the demonstrations, the “beds” (lines of planted plants) in large greenhouses continue to grow and flourish.
The crops, which are concentrated in 5,800 hectares in the Ecuadorian Sierra, were left in the middle of the struggle between indigenous people and the public force.
Nearly three weeks of protests and roadblocks halted exports. The government calculates losses of US$ 1,000 million, mainly in the private sector.
“It was thrown away, it was cut because the plants are like a cow. If it is not milked, the cow gets sick or dies. The same happens in agriculture”, indicates Letort, which allocates 5% of its production to France.
In plantations such as that of the Dutch Dümmen Orange, in the neighboring town of Guachalá, thousands and thousands of flowers were piled up that could not be sold and had to be chopped into pieces to turn them into compost, forming large mounds of waste.
Until now, Ecuador, which produces 450 varieties of roses, remains the world’s third largest supplier of roses, behind the Netherlands and Colombia.
Flower growers have been able to make their way in a competitive market recently altered by the rise in the price of fertilizers due to the war unleashed by Russia, one of the main suppliers of agrochemicals.
Even despite the pandemic, sales reached $827 million in 2020, a smaller-than-expected loss compared to 2019 ($880 million).
“We saw that flowers, despite the pandemic, have become a product of necessity. People wanted to have colours, aromas in their homes and it was a really essential product”, says Letort.
There was also more demand for funeral rites that, although restricted, multiplied in the world due to COVID-19.
the russian effect
Ecuadorian roses are multicolored, with deep and mixed tones, stems up to one meter and buttons the width of an open hand.
“Given the characteristics of quality, color, size, we will always have a preferential place in the market,” highlights Socorro Martínez, general manager of Dümmen Orange in Ecuador.
Flower exports generated US$432 million between January and May 2022, compared to US$417 million in the same period in 2021.
This year “it looked very good despite the Russia issue, with certain falls, but with an eventual recovery at the end of the year. With the (indigenous) strike it is going to be much more complicated”, estimates the president of Expoflores, Alejandro Martínez, without any ties to Socorro Martínez.
By countries, Russia was in 2021 the second market for Ecuadorian flowers (with 20%), behind the United States (40%). Due to the effects of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian purchases were reduced to 10%, according to Letort, also president of Expoflores in Cayambe.
By market importance, the United States is first and then the European Union (EU).
“The flower business is difficult per se, it doesn’t need strikes, pandemics or wars to make it complicated,” explains Marco Peñaherrera, who plants about 120,000 stems a week in the United States.
“It’s very volatile,” notes the merchant, according to whom the cost of a wholesale rose in New York is 60 cents on the dollar and when it is in an arrangement it goes up to US$ 5. “In the end, it ends up being a good deal , But it’s very complicated”.