Eduard Baquero

Eduard Baquero

President, The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao)
Augusto Solano

Augusto Solano

President, Association of Colombian Flower Exporters (Asocolflores)
Colombia has become a success story for agricultural exports in Latin America, and the cacao and flower associations have played a key role in supporting the players in the sector.

What have been the reasons for the success of your sector?

EDUARD BAQUERO Cocoa producers are largely responsible for the high levels of production. This comprises 52,000 working families, plus the national association of cocoa farmers. It is true, we have seen record production this quarter, and if these trends continue, we expect to break the record again. Fedecacao is the leading company representing growers in the country, and in some agronomic work that has to do mainly with the renewal of cocoa crops. This is an area that we have been working on for some years and that is bearing fruit every day. We are a small country in terms of global cocoa production, ranking 10th in the world; however, we have something special; our cocoa is classified by the International Cocoa Organization as fine and aromatic. This is a true differentiating factor, as of the 4.7 million tonnes produced, only 5% have these characteristics. For a long time, we produced cocoa for export, but we were unable to meet the needs of the domestic industry. About 13 years ago we produced about 33,000 tonnes and imported only 12,000 tonnes for our own consumption. We have now achieved self-sufficiency in the domestic market and are in a position to generate surpluses for export. In 2020, the bulk of our cocoa beans were exported to Mexico (80%). This was atypical because exports are usually at around 40%.

AUGUSTO SOLANO The Colombian flower industry is exceptional because it has always had an outward-looking vision, which means it developed adhering to world-class standards of efficiency and quality. Additionally, the market has certain particularities, such as its focus on fashion, intellectual property rights, and logistics, which make it extremely sophisticated. We are today the second-largest exporter of flowers in the world and the biggest exporter to the US. Our main strength as a flower-growing country is the diversity of our flowers. We have about 60 species, and for each species there are many varieties. We manage about 1,400 varieties in total. Now, about 80% of our flowers are sold in the US, and about 80% of imported flowers in the US come from Colombia. For certain flowers like carnations, alstroemeria, and chrysanthemums, more than 95% of those in the US come from Colombia. We compete under the same conditions as Mexico, which had an FTA with the US longer than Colombia did, or the Netherlands, which has been in the flower market for 400 years. This is a great achievement, and although everything started with the US, we are gradually diversifying our destinations. At present, we sell to 100 countries; 80% goes to the US, followed by Japan, and in the past the UK or Russia. It changes, but altogether we export to about 100 countries. This is a business that is 50% agriculture and 50% logistics, and logistics is key—it is the name of the game and is the main problem we experienced during the pandemic.

What policies exist to benefit the cocoa farmer? Why are Good Agricultural Practices important for the federation?

EB We must work on three areas: research, technology transfer (aimed at agricultural extension), and support for commercial issues. However, there is also an area of research that we have been conducting for over three decades in which we have been able to identify the best cocoa materials, not only in Colombia, but across the world. These materials are what the workers are sowing in the field. In 2020, a completely atypical year due to the pandemic, we also commenced virtual trainings.

How can the flower industry contribute to 2021's economic reactivation? What is your vision for Colombia's economy going forward?

AS Aside from the economic benefits that the industry generates directly, flower agriculture generates spillover benefits related to entrepreneurship and efficiency. The most important asset of the flower industry is the entrepreneurial culture, and it is spreading to other activities and products. Flower growers are starting to look into different products like aromatic herbs, blueberries, and avocados. Avocados can be the next success story for Colombia. In general, the model can be copied for a slew of products: vegetables, fruit, and so on.

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