High up in the Ecuadorean Andes at an altitude of 2,800m seems an
unlikely place to come across a rose farm. But the altitude and light
levels actually make this area, close to Cayambe and north of the
capital Quito, a uniquely suitable location for flower production,
explains flower grower Eduardo Letort.
Letort’s business, Hoja Verde, exports 25 million roses a year, grown on 45 ha of production in three different locations. “The colors are more intense with longer stems and bigger flowers due to the amount of daylight hours we have,” he says. “The vase life is also a bit longer than Colombian, Dutch or African flowers because there are higher levels of photosynthesis in the Andes.”
And these ideal conditions haven’t escaped the notice of others. Flowers are now the fourth-largest export from Ecuador, excluding oil, while on a global scale the country is the third-largest exporter, behind the Netherlands and Colombia.
Growth has by no means tailed off, either. In 2017, flower exports were worth $890 million according to industry body ProEcuador, up from $806 million the year before, although the industry is facing increasingly tough competition from cheaper entrants to the market such as Kenya.
The US is by far the largest market for Ecuadorean flowers (44.8%), followed by Russia (15.3%), the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.
An agriculture graduate who studied abroad in New Zealand, Letort has also been a pioneer of Fairtrade flower production since it arrived in Ecuador in the 1980s. He stresses how the certification has helped his business invest in anything from new technology to community development. “Environmental projects we have done because of Fairtrade include installing a new irrigation system to reduce the rate and volume of fertilization,” he says. “We did a carbon footprint analysis that showed 80 per cent of our impact comes from fertilizer inputs.”
But despite the benefits at a producer level, Letort is concerned that Fairtrade is threatened by growing price pressure in the global cut flower market. “The Fairtrade market is flat, although it has grown slightly in the US thanks to our primary customer Whole Foods. Without that, I’m not sure it would be worth it. Everyone wants to have environmental and social standards, but they don’t want to pay the price.”
One-way Letort has protected his business for the future is through diversification, and Hoja Verde is now one of the only multi producers of roses, premium chocolate and coffee in Ecuador. It’s a combination that has obvious marketing potential, and Letort has plans to trial a flowers and chocolate gift box in the future.
Another area of innovation is a new sideline in preserved roses, using a technique developed by the Japanese that involves substituting sap for glycerin in the rose petals, and stitching them together to make long-lasting novelty gifts.
Preserving roses may be the plan for the short-term, but if Hoja Verde remains committed to profitable and on-trend diversification it may well preserve its own future at the same time.