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Colombian flowers in high demand
Friday coming is Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest days for flower sales in this country. But where do most of the roses and chrysanthemums that make up those floral expressions of love come from? The surprising answer is Colombia, one of T&T’s closest Latin American neighbours and the second largest exporter of flowers in the world.
Between January and November last year, T&T imported US$923,981 worth of fresh flowers and live plants from Colombia. Apart from Valentine’s Day, the seasons of high demand for flowers here are Mother’s Day, the June/July wedding season and Christmas.
Carlos Gonzalez, executive director, Caribbean, for Proexport Colombia, the agency responsible for promoting that country’s non-traditional exports, international tourism and foreign investment, said T&T is the second largest importer of Colombian flowers in the Caribbean. In this region, Puerto Rico is the largest importer and other significant markets are Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
“There are 24 companies from T&T currently importing Colombian cut flowers. Nine of those companies are responsible for 90 per cent of the total imports,” he told the T&T Guardian in a telephone interview. The T&T importers include Flowers 137, Neesha Amin, Multiflora International, Keville Redman, Flower Time, Whitefield Corp/Caribbean Flowers, Bloemen Trading CV, Caribbean-Flower and Flower Line.
Gonzalez said Colombia exports more than US$1 billion in flowers every year. It is the country’s top non-traditional agricultural export and the industry generates more than 120,000 jobs directly. The advantage in getting flowers from Colombia, he said, is the easy process for getting them to the Caribbean, as well as the competitive prices, high quality and fast delivery times.
Gonzalez said Colombia has been exporting flowers for the past 40 years and dedicates over 7,200 hectares to growing these blooms. Because of the country’s unique sunlight, humidity, temperature and soil fertility, the region produces the largest variety of exotic flowers in the world, with more than 1,500 different species of flowers.
Colombia is the top global producer of carnations, including unique bicolour carnations that come in a variety of hues. The country is also a world leader in alstromelia production. Other popular flowers include chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies, which come in hundreds of different species and colours.
The country’s traditional red Freedom roses are the flowers with the highest demand around Valentine’s Day, although there is also an increased demand for alstroemeria, chrysanthemums, heliconias and full bouquets. The greatest demand in T&T is for cut roses and chrysanthemums, Gonzalez said. It is estimated that over the next few days, ahead of February 14, Colombia will be shipping out more than 500 million flowers to its overseas markets.
The floral connection between T&T and Colombia has to do with much more than import and exports, however. Colombia’s Proflora Fair, hosted every two years by Asocolflores—the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters—attracts interest from around the world and tourists and buyers from this country are among the thousands who regularly attend the event. “The first Proflora Fair was held in 1991 in Bogota,” said Gonzalez. “In 2011, more than 300 flower companies from 15 countries participated.”
He said the 2015 edition, scheduled for Medellin, will coincide with another major attraction, the city’s Flower Festival which offers more than 140 cultural, traditional and modern events. Attractions include a horse fair, an orchestra festival, the national trova festival where singers are involved in duels of improvised verses, an old and classic car parade and music festivals.
The high point is the Silleteros parade where farmers create beautiful arrangements on a silleta (a chair-like contraption for carrying flowers on a person’s back). This parade is recognised as a cultural heritage of Colombia.