Photo: Weather Threatens Colombia's Flower Exports
Some of the most intense rains in Colombia’s history have left three million people affected, and now threatens to water down everyone’s Mother’s Day and the flowers you were going to give mama.
The current weather season in Colombia has the nation on the verge of declaring a state of emergency throughout its territory. At least 420 people have died, more than 140,000 homes have been seriously damaged, or destroyed, and schools and universities have closed their door indefinitely, their campuses flooded.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that at least 2.6 million acres in 24 out of the nation’s 32 departments (i.e. states) have been affected. In addition, 115,000 head of cattle have died and another 1.4 million have been forced to relocate.
Many of Colombia’s key flower-farming areas, were among the hardest hit by torrential rains, which seem to have intensified in the last couple of weeks.
“On an individual basis, there are some dramatic cases with total losses and farms that are completely underwater,” said Augusto Solano Mejia, the president of Colombia’s National Association of Flower Exporters. “But it’s impossible to generalize. We still don’t know how many acres were affected. But we’re trying to resolve these issues and help producers ship their holiday orders.”
The association says that 5% to 15% of national production could be ruined, a loss that comes just as dollar prices plummet, and trade preferences expire, which translates in a 6.8% tariff on the price of flowers.
“This has really been a perfect storm for flower growers,” said Jose Azout, the president of a 20-acre farm north of Bogotá. “There are not going to be many flowers for Mother’s Day in the United States this year.”
Another flower house has been using boats around their farms to ferry their employees into the green houses, after they found themselves surrounded by water last week.
“This has been a logistical headache but we haven’t missed any of our orders,” said General Manager Luis Fernando Nieto. “For some of our workers, particularly the older ones, this if the first time they’ve ever been in a boat.”
President Juan Manuel Santos has been criticized, and accused of not pushing the government to prepare for the weather crisis before it hit full force.
“It’s as if the entire country was being affected by a hurricane that hit in the middle of last year and hasn’t left,” he said. “That’s why we weren’t able to use the months with less rain to start major projects. It would have been wasting resources by building on quick sand,” said Santos on a televised intervention.