Climate Change and Colombian Floriculture

Colombia is the second largest exporter of fresh-cut flowers in the world after the Netherlands and the top supplier of flowers to the United States1. In 2013, Colombian flowers accounted for 65% of cut flower imports in the United States2. Colombia produces a wide variety of flowers, including carnations, roses, alstroemerias, and chrysanthemums, and 95% of its flower production is exported1.

Asocolflores is a trade organization that represents the Colombian floriculture industry domestically and internationally with the aim of helping Colombia maintain its position in the global cut flower market. The members of Asocolflores collectively make up approximately 75% of Colombian floral exports1. Asocolflores supports its trade members with work on market research, coordination across the industry’s logistics chain, involvement in domestic and international policy and regulatory affairs, and promotion of sustainable growing practices certifications.

In the coming decades, Colombian agriculture can expect some substantial temperature rises, increasingly unpredictable precipitation patterns, and a likely greater prevalence of pests and diseases thanks to climate change3. Agriculture employs one fifth of Colombia’s population and represents one tenth of its GDP3. The agricultural sector is responsible for 40% of the country’s exports, and fresh-cut flower exports represent about 26% of Colombia’s agricultural exports, second to only coffee1.

By 2050, temperatures are expected to rise by about 2-2.5 degrees Celsius consistently across Colombia’s agricultural areas and by as much as 3-3.5 degrees Celsius in some agricultural areas3. Plus, the agriculture challenges resulting from climate variations experienced in the past decade associated with El Nino and La Nina will only be amplified. Per projections by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, 80% of crops will likely feel the impact of these changes in most of their areas of cultivation3. The country’s agriculture sector, including the floriculture sector, must become more adaptive and do its part in flowing the effects of climate change.

Asocolflores encourages the adoption of various certifications for sustainable growing practices including Florverde Sustainable Flowers (“Florverde”), GLOBALG.A.P., and Rainforest Alliance Certified. Asocolflores helped to established Florverde Sustainable Flowers (“Florverde”), a certification of sustainable growing requirements and standards specific to the floriculture industry1. Florverde has been recognized as a “Resembling Scheme” by GLOBALG.A.P. (“Global Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture”)5.

More and more, growers, importers, and distributors of Colombian flowers destined for the US market are learning that their customers (i.e. supermarket chains, mass retailers, wholesale clubs, and floral wholesalers) want sustainably grown flowers. Some customers even request that certification logos be placed on product packaging like decorative floral sleeves to highlight their sustainable origins. But what do these sustainable growing certifications require of flower growers?

Florverde standards promote the implementation of energy efficient processes and specific water storage and conservation techniques. Collected rainwater makes up over 60% of water used to irrigate Florverde-certified flowers, and growers are required to closely monitor water consumption and to install efficient irrigation technologies in greenhouses, such as drip irrigation systems4. Moreover, growers are required to prepare a five-year plan for optimize water consumption and to engage in reforestation activities using native plant species4.

Florverde requires growers to minimize their use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals that could be harmful to humans and the environment. It does so by promoting alternative solutions like Integrated Crop Management techniques, natural compost or mechanical alternatives to pesticides [4]. If fertilizers must be used, Florverde requires detailed soil analysis prior to any fertilizer application4.

Asocolflores could consider the entire logistics chain for floral exports to identify more opportunities for sustainable practices in Colombian floriculture. In 2013, only 3% of Colombia flowers exports were shipped via maritime freight6. The remaining exports were shipped via air freight for speed and quality purposes. However, some flower growers have started to successfully adopt maritime shipping for certain floral products. Asocolflores might draw from its members’ experience to highlight how successful maritime shipping has been when exporting to other foreign markets, like Europe, Russia, Japan, and Australia. Also, Asocolflores could possibly help its members anticipate the effects of rising temperatures on future crop yields and alternatives to currently produced crops.

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Student comments on Climate Change and Colombian Floriculture

  1. Great post. Do you think partnerships across countries might be feasible and would help mitigate the problem? seems to suggest that certain flower plantations work better in certain locations.

  2. Great post! I always love learning about the industry.

    It seems that there are two different, although overlapping, goals; “sustainable” growing of flowers and adaptation to climate change. One is consumer-driven and the other production-driven. Going forward, I’d be very interested to see how these two factors interact; whether they end up requiring similar or different sets of actions.


  3. Thanks for the post.

    I wonder what your opinion is regarding the actual feasibility of implementing “clean practice” stanfdards in the industry. If I do recall, the flower export market is not very fragmented, with large players creating an oligopolistic feel over the industry. What incentives would the association (funded by the same producers) to burden the costs of such implementations?


  4. Interesting post! It made me wonder to what degree the floriculture itself contributes to climate change (e.g., flowers are increasingly being grown in environments where global warming has contributed to increased temperatures, so does water usage contribute to worsening the current situation?).

  5. It was interesting to hear about climate change from the floriculture perspective. Has the industry begun to consider any methods that don’t rely on the climate at all? For example, hydroponic farming would bring production indoors and use 90% less water than traditional farming. The only downsides would be a slight learning curve for existing labor and the need for new physical infrastructure. But, given that hydroponic setups can be constructed using PVC pipes and styrofoam rafts, the upfront investment wouldn’t be particularly large and would likely pay for itself very quickly.

  6. The post mentions that Florverde standards promote the implementation of energy efficient processes, water conservation/storage techniques, & the minimization of fertilizers/pesticides. Taking hydroponics one step further (see comment above), would it be possible to utilize aeroponics to grow flowers in Columbia? Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in the air without the use of soil or another medium. Nutrients are transferred to the plants via an aqueous mist applied directly on the roots [1]. This process would not only eliminate the need for fertilizers, but also pesticides (since plant-to-plant contact is reduced). Water could be used more efficiently because in traditional growing, it can seep into the ground beyond the roots. Overall energy efficiency could be net neutral (or advantageous). With aeroponics, plants can be cultivated in much higher densities than with traditional growing methods but equipment to maintain the system would be greater as well. However. irrigation systems would require much less coverage, which could reduce net energy expenditures.


  7. Great post. I love the research behind the topic and I wanted to propose a Colombia trek next spring to visit the manufacturing facilities.

    On a more serious note, I like the solutions you’ve proposed especially around the supply chain. However, it would be great to understand the costs and benefits of adopting maritime freight over air freight. It’s probably impossible to cover in an 800 word blog post but I believe it would yield pretty interesting results. Also – as part of the analysis, we could look at how constant / unpredictable the demand is for flowers (how cyclical the industry is vs. there being unpredictable demand). This could lead us to think about establishing a lower cost supply chain which could provide a steady stream of flowers. To gain extra brownie points on this comment, let me mention the bullwhip effect and its effects on the supply chain.

    Overall, the post made me think a lot – thank you!

  8. Great job outlining the facts – this was very well researched! I had no idea that flowers constituted such a large piece of Columbia’s economy.

    I think this is a particularly good example too because it’s clear that a large business is at risk purely because of rising temperatures. I’d be curious to know what the government is doing to address this issues since agriculture comprises such a large part of the country’s GDP. Also, it would be interested to understand the carbon footprint of the industry broken down by production vs. shipping. I’ve read air freight is a pretty large contributory to GHG so understanding the impact of growing vs. shipping could be useful to figure out which side of the problem to attack.

    Awesome post!

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