Asocolflores, the official voice of Colombia’s flower cut flower and cut foliage export, held its inaugural Floriculture Congress, and celebrated the first edition of its Sustainability and Shared Values Awards in Cartagena, Colombia, between 9-10 June 2022.
The Congreso de la Floricultura immediately followed the exporters association’s Annual General Meeting and attracted nearly 200 attendees. Both events at the Hyatt Regency Cartagena de Indias hotel put faith back into face-to-face meetings after a more than two-year break due to Covid-19. In tune with a positive, energetic atmosphere, the Congress included various interesting presentations on diverse topics, from floral shopping trends to cryptocurrency education and business ethics to climate change and sustainability.
On day two, once the presentations concluded, a session explicitly addressing the incoming generation of growers/exporters also featured; this has emerged as a crucial aspect for an industry that, after five decades of success, needs to ensure smooth and effective succession planning.
Our biggest takeaways from the congress include:
• Interesting and very recent figures on the Colombian flower sector were provided by Augusto Solano, President of ASOCOLFLORES.
• He said that in 2021, Colombian flower exports reached $1,730 million and 302,000 tons, a 19 per cent increase over 2019.
• In 2021, 78 per cent of Colombian flowers were sold in the USA; Eighty-five per cent of bouquets traded in the USA came from Colombia.
• Colombian flowers are exported to 100 countries around the world.
• The Colombian flower industry generates 200,000 direct and indirect jobs, 65 per cent of which are held by women.
• The period from 1 January to 30 April 2022 shows an increase of 28 per cent over the same period in 2021.
• Ninety-two per cent of the flowers were shipped by air.
Speaking about “Driving forces of change in the cut flower industry – opportunities and challenges”, Dr Melinda Knuth from the University of North Carolina shared her conclusions from a recent study relating to the situation and trends of the industry in the USA. She identifies eight main driving forces:
• Supermarkets – consolidation and increasing imports
• E-marketing – sustained growth of online flower purchasing
• Direct consumption – a stronger tendency to buy flowers “from the farm to your home”. The customer is more demanding and has an increasingly relevant opinion and impact.
• Demographic shift – the younger generation perceives flowers and plants differently (there is an opportunity and need to promote the benefits of flowers and plants).
• Event planners, studio and lifestyle florists are gaining a strong presence.
• Technology is more and more important. Instant orders, prompt attention, fast delivery. The pandemic brought a surge in mobile device use, and suppliers need to be ready to respond
• Flowers for special events – happy and sad are on the increase. For example, after the pandemic, millions of weddings are being held.
• Flower transport and supply – even though airfreight continues to dominate, sea freight is expected to increase substantially.
Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI)
Speaker Jeroen Oudheusden shared an update on the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI). FSI is a market-driven, multi-stakeholder initiative close to completing a decade of action. It has made great strides in harmonising different sustainability standards to compare results, establish performance indicators and science-based targets, and continuously improve through a sustained benchmarking process. FSI is now looking towards “a transparent and responsible supply chain in 2025, aiming at 90 per cent responsible flower production and trade with a reduced carbon footprint by that year. For more information, visit the FSI website.
“For five decades, the Colombian flower sector has been a pioneer in implementing sustainability in its actions. Through time, we have developed several programmes and activities which have brought benefits to more than 50,000 people every year to generate welfare, inclusion, and equity for our partners and foster respect for the environment. Therefore, today we feel very proud to experience, see, exalt, and transmit relevant sector experiences.”
With these words, Mr Solano announced the first edition of the Asocolflores Sustainability and Shared Values Awards, coinciding with the Floriculture Congress in Cartagena. The Sustainability and Shared Value Awards of Asocolflores evaluated 37 initiatives in Social Experiences and Environmental Experiences, and six companies received prizes.
During the awards ceremony, Mr Solano reiterated the commitment of the flower growers to propose solutions to climate change problems and the development of the social fabric. He stressed that all the nominees represent the capacity that the sector has to do things differently, generating profitable business and showing that if we work in respect of each other and add value to our communities, it is not difficult to attain sustainability.
A panel of expert judges -including Mr Solano, Sergio Rengifo Caicedo, managing director of CECODES, Bertha Carolina Trevisi, advisor and implementation leader of ILO´s SCORE Programme in Colombia, Adriana Solano Luque – president of the Colombian Safety Council, and Juan Ricardo Gómez Serrano – director of the Master’s Degree in Preservation and Biodiversity at Universidad Javeriana – handed out awards in two primary categories: Social Experiences and Environmental Experiences.
• Best management plan with the community.
Winner: Flores Isabelita
Project: “Isabelita, diverse and inclusive” is a strategy that targets the inclusion of people with disabilities to generate labour opportunities for them and other vulnerable and minority population groups (such as migrant population, LBTIQ+ population, women heads of household, and victims of the Colombian armed conflict, amongst others).
• Best management practice in health and safety at work.
Winner: GR Chía
Project: “Health and safety-at-work training” is a strategy to promote and improve technical skills within the target groups to have assertive participation in operations, working conditions, and risk factors of the flower-growing sector.
• Best management practice in labour welfare operations.
Winner: Flores de Serrezuela
Project: “Our people in bloom” is a strategy that improves the quality of life of the employees within their labour environment and promotes the welfare of their families through different types of assistance, allowances, subsidised lunch, a free information hotline, health tips, and life versus work balance tips provided by the ‘paid time checkbook’, a tool which allows the workers to enjoy additional free time with their families and others.
The winners in the Environmental Experiences category, recognising development policies, programmes, and prominent projects to mitigate the environmental impacts which are inherent to working in the flower industry, are:
• Winner 1: AYURÁ SAS
Project: “Environmentally friendly practices” A strategy that articulates innovation projects and sustainable processes, availing of vegetative material, the use of solar energy, automation of the postharvest classification process, the substitution of wooden beds for metal, and the use of probiotic cultures for reservoir water treatment.
• Winner 2: Agrícola Circasia S.A.S
Project: “Forest vegetative material recovery and environmental social service” uses rooting benches to protect native tree species, further replanting them in recovery areas.
• Winner 3: Jardines de los Andes
Project: “Landscaping and biodiversity environmental management programme” a strategy to improve the landscape and biodiversity of the farms and help transition from exotic to native species by implementing a culture of protecting and preserving wild and migratory animals.
This article was first featured in the September 2022 edition of FloraCulture International.