Colombia’s Other Billion-Dollar Cash Crop
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s not always about coffee and the FARC.
Deep in the heart of Colombia there is an army of people working hard to grow a highly sought-after product worth more than $1 billion a year. Most of it will find its way into your life somehow, someway; it’s inescapable. Indeed, since the 1960s, Americans have grown ever more dependent on this Colombian crop.
You might be surprised.
Those flowers at the grocery store probably came from the high-altitude savanna just outside Bogotá.
Some cultivos have nearly two square miles dedicated to growing roses, hydrangeas, carnations, chrysanthemums, gerbera daisies and other flowers for export. While the flowers ship to nearly every continent, the majority of Colombia’s exported flowers board refrigerated cargo planes destined for the U.S. Even with climate control, all that travel can be tough on flowers. Growers sometimes test them for years before deciding to gamble on a new breed. One such grower, Alexandra Farms, tests over 100 different roses a year; the company says it will offer less than 5% commercially.
Colombia’s domination of the flower market may be in its twilight years, however. Jose Azout, president of Alexandra Farms, predicts that family-operated and independent ventures, already on the decline, will disappear, and that the main flower sellers in the United States will be able to offer better and more diverse products to consumers.
OZY senior editor Alex Washburn visited Alexandra Farms; click above for her photo essay.