Colombia’s blooming flower industry offers safety net to Venezuelan migrants
By Maribel Arenas Vadillo
Bogota, Feb 11 (EFE).- For Columbia’s flower industry Valentine’s Day is the highlight of the year with exports to over 100 countries and millions of harvested flowers across greenhouses scattered across the country.
The Valentine’s Day harvest represents 15% of Colombia’s annual flower exports with some 5.7 billion flowers being sent to the United States, Japan, Canada and the Netherlands, according to the Colombian association of flower exporters (Asocolflores).
Between January and February 2022, Colombia traded nearly 890 million flowers, according to the national statistics agency (DANE), generating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
Jennifer Hernández is one of the nearly 40 Venezuelan workers working in one of the sections of the Flores La Aldea flower farm located in the central town of Sesquilé, near Bogota.
She toils the flower beds wearing a light brown suit and gloves stained by the more than 38 varieties of carnations on the farm.
According to Asocolflores, the sector generates 200,000 direct and indirect jobs every year with 60% of the jobs occupied by women.
The farm’s manager for new projects and infrastructure development, Fernando Peña, tells EFE that a formal labor setting is essential to obtain national and international certification seals such as “Rainforest” or “Global Gap” which allows the company to tap into markets in Japan and the United Kingdom, among others.
“When you are regulated by some seals whose main function is the social, labor and human side of the business, and the government says Venezuelan migrants are normalized, what is the problem (in hiring them)?” Peña says.
A teacher and cooking enthusiast, Hernández arrived in Colombia eight years ago, after the “hotel companies and food fairs” began to close in her city.
“Tourists stopped coming” and businesses “began to terminate contracts,” she says.
The migrant explains how to move to Colombia, she was forced to sell all her belongings.
Although Hernández says “the company is a good” employer, she agrees with her colleague Militza Ríos that it is a “very hard” job with long eight-hour days spent standing and walking between the flower beds, trimming back flowers and measuring stems.
“At first, it hit me hard. I said, my God, why did this life happen to me here? Then I began to put love and interest in it and I liked it,” says Ríos, who has been a farm worker for over two years now.
Ríos says the farm has provided a safety net for hundreds of Venezuelan migrants and says she even finds the work among the colorful buds therapeutic.EFE