Ximena Franco Villegas heads the Sustainability and Environmental Affairs Department of Asocolflores. She will be a panellist at AIPH’s Path to Sustainability Conference on 30 September. FCI caught up with her to find out more about the sustainability work that’s happening in Colombia.
When I ask Ximena Franco-Villegas what sustainability means to her, the Managing Director of Florverde Sustainable Flowers (FSF) is honest and straightforward in her reply.
“Sustainability is a global concept, that is understood in our international market; however, it has to be digested in a local context. FSF focus on the social and environmental impacts to Colombian flowers and ornamentals growers, and work with local partners and regional partners for implementation.”
She continues: “Florverde Sustainable Flowers didn’t start as a certification; it was born as a code of conduct for growers led by the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters (Asocolflores) 25 years ago. The guide evolved to certification, and nowadays, this “local solution” towards sustainability is internationally recognised and covers associations in Colombia, Ecuador, and is gaining interest in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico.”
Since 2008, Florverde Sustainable Flowers and GLOBALG.A.P. standards have been equivalent and mutually accepted by all trading partners. The GLOBALG.A.P. seal and bar is one of the most important and recognisable certifications globally, promoting good agricultural practices.
Florverde Sustainable Flowers, equivalent to Global Social Compliance Programme (now Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative) and the environmental scope of the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI), is part of this initiative since 2013 and forms part of the FSI Basket of Standards.
Franco-Villegas, who directs the Technical Secretariat of FSF, also holds the leading role at the Sustainability and Environmental Affairs Department of Asocolflores. FSF, she says, began with an independent study by a university regarding the social and environmental impacts of Colombian growers’ activity.
“We did not force a certification on growers,” asserts Franco-Villegas. “If we had gone to the growers from the beginning with a certification idea, they would have runaway because anything official, anything that sounds stringent and restrictive to their enterprise possibilities is terrible.”
FSF worked with the growers taking a mentoring approach known as the Florverde Impact, Monitoring and Evaluation System. It was implemented as the Asocolﬂores’ Sustainability Indicators System for Colombian Floriculture to monitor performance of the farms in various aspects of high impact and demonstrate to internal and external clients the value of their social, environmental and economic management.
The ﬁrst indicator implemented by Florverde in 1998 was the Active Ingredient consumption of chemical pesticides. Over time, indicators for water, energy, absenteeism, accident rate and severity, carbon footprint, turnover, and economic indicators added.
The FSF certification is essential for international trade. Still, more importantly to Franco-Villegas, it is the 20 steps towards gaining the certification and not the certificate itself that is helping growers achieve sustainability goals. She explains: “On a local level, the sustainability priority is the welfare of the people, their quality of life and their working conditions. The second is water and the future feasibility of this natural resource to guarantee production in the future. And the third is land availability; there is a lot of pressure from developers for the land. That’s because, in Colombia, ornamentals production takes place on land near cities or regions close to international airports. There are three clusters of growers; you have the Bogotá savanna and a second region near Rio-Negro. The third region is in the coffee-growing area. The certification is voluntary, and if the grower doesn’t see the benefit of the process, they don’t do it. But the important thing is that FSF implement best practices in sustainability. We work together with the growers, not by ourselves; we make alliances with local authorities, local partners, communities, universities and many other stakeholders.”
Those who progress with the certification have access to The Florverde I, M&E System. The Florverde counts on procedures that guarantee the quality of the data, which ensures that the system’s information reﬂects the reality of the farms’ performance to create conﬁdence in this tool as a source of data for making decisions on site.
Franco-Villegas asserts that in Colombia, growers are very responsible regarding legal issues. They are aware of the social and environmental responsibility from the production point of view. However, suppose the international market asks for certain kinds of practices that maybe haven’t been asked by the local market, such as extended packaging responsibility.
In that case, FSF helps them deal with these issues. When growers apply for certification, they also receive independent feedback from the certification body on improving their performance. Also, as demand for sustainable accreditation continues to grow, it provides them with access to new markets.
The primary international market for Colombian flowers is the USA — 74 per cent. Then it is the UK, Russia, Japan, and then the European countries, mainly the Netherlands. Franco-Villegas says: “The European market, even though it’s a ‘smaller market’, we are aware it is not a small market from a certification point of view. I think the market is a good driver for sustainability practices. Still, I also believe that sometimes the international market cannot understand the local social, cultural and economic conditions, and of course, the environmental conditions. That’s why a local partner and a local certification scheme are essential to digest the sustainability aspects and concepts are driven in a local way to let the growers implement practices that make sense. And not just demands from the international market that maybe doesn’t make sense to local conditions.”
However, she also notes that Florverde Sustainable Flowers’ mentoring approach is attracting more companies to become more aware of sustainability these days. They want to be transparent and want to implement this code of conduct. Not only because of the legal requirements but also because this code is a sound management system. In 2020, the flower export valued at $1.4 billion of flowers from Colombia.
Franco-Villegas asserts: “Fifty-three per cent of that portion (equivalent to 122 thousand tons) were Florverde certified flowers, grown sustainably. FSF aims to increase that portion year by year and align it with the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative goals, which is to achieve 90 per cent by 2025.
“I think everyone must accelerate their sustainability goals and align every single initiative for the sake of the planet and humankind.
“We ask the whole business, floriculture and flower commerce business to align and work towards the global Sustainable Development Goals.”