After 50 years in business, Colombia appears as an experienced and savvy flower exporter, holding a honourable position as second world exporter after Holland for many years, with a global market share of 17%.
Commercial cut flower production in Colombia started in the mid 1960s, when visionary entrepreneurs identified clear advantages in the geographical location, climatic conditions, land availability and socio-economic factors including plentiful and affordable hand labor.
Colombia’s geographical location is one factors influencing the success of flower exports: 3 ½ hours by plane to Miami, with good access to Europe and even to more distant markets such as Japan. Colombia is served by a good number of airlines both passenger and cargo. Plus there are no clear seasons, so climatic conditions and light intensity – ideal for cut flower production – are available year round. No need to cool or heat greenhouses.
Floriculture developed as an export business from the beginning and initially grew at a dramatically fast pace: the first exports in 1965 amounted to U$20,000; ten years later they were worth U$20 million and twenty later U$140 million. By 2003, they were at U$ 680 million and in 2018 US $1458 million (Fig 1).
Cropping areas grew accordingly, but soon it was apparent that a focus on improved efficiency was essential. The product mix initially focused on temperate flowers (carnations, roses, mums), and although these still are very relevant, over the past two decades a strong diversification trend has occurred and now comprise more than 30 flower types are exported, including tropical species.
The Colombian flower sector presently spans over about 7800 hectares, mostly under plastic but also shade and open field.
Even though the first flower exporting farms date back to 1979, the development of Ecuadorian floriculture was clearly encouraged by a crisis affecting Colombian floriculture between 1992 and 1997, caused by strong revaluation of the Colombian peso and a fall in flower prices resulting from increased competition and reduced competitiveness. Whilst floriculture struggled in Colombia, it developed rapidly in Ecuador, using Colombian experience and know-how for very similar locations and conditions; a good number of Colombian entrepreneurs participated in this development.
International suppliers took advantage of this situation to recover dwindling sales in Colombia. Introduction of new rose varieties in Ecuadorian floriculture turned into a clear advantage for exporters, who during this period were able to sell the latest novelties, whilst their competitors in Colombia could not afford to renew. Roses of the highest quality expanded rapidly, becoming the staple of Ecuadorian flower exports. Ecuador enjoys exceptional, year-round conditions for rose production consisting of a combination of cold nights and warm days, very high light intensity, and abundant water of excellent quality.
Ecuadorian floriculture also grew at a fast pace, from 300 Ha in 1990 to 2800 in 1999, 3440 in 2007 and about 4,200 at present. Maximum growth happened between 1992 and 1997 with an expansion of 500% in the cropping area, and exports spiraling upward. In only twenty years, flower exports passed from U$1.7 million (1986) to more than U$100 million in 1996, U$440 million in 2006 and US $830 million in 2018 (Fig 2).
Ecuador presently rates as the third cut flower exporter in the world after the Netherlands and Colombia.