Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno has moved the government out of Quito amid violent protests that have also disrupted the floral industry supply chain.
Benito Jaramillo, president of Valleflor S.A in Quito, said on Wednesday morning that most of the farms in the southern Lasso region have temporarily shut down operations.
“The intensity of the strikes there is completely out of control with farms being assaulted in the past days,” he explained. “In the northern Cayambe region, most farms are working with extreme difficulty and having major problems delivering the flowers through alternate roads. In the vicinity of Quito, we have been able to work, with some difficulty. All our people arrived to work safely, and the flowers have reached the cargo agencies.”
Jaramillo added that the impact of the current situation is significant, amounting to “hundreds of millions of dollars lost” for the country’s overall economy. Ecuador currently comprises 20 percent of imports to the United States, valued at $254 million, behind Colombia (60 percent, $745 million) and ahead of The Netherlands (6 percent, $74.1 million).
Protests, many of them organized by transportation workers and indigenous groups, began last week after the government rolled back some workforce protection laws and put an end to a 40-year fuel subsidy program as part of a broader austerity plan stipulated by a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Ending the subsidies has caused prices to increase — gas prices in Ecuador have more than doubled — and led to violence. NPR reported Tuesday that the “country’s state-owned oil producer, Petroamazonas, had suspended operations at three of its oil fields in the Amazon rainforest, saying outside groups ‘violently entered’ the facilities Monday afternoon.” The BBC reported protestors storming Parliament on Tuesday. Meanwhile, hundreds have been arrested.
The floral industry has not been immune. Expoflores, the national industry trade association in Ecuador, has been posting updates regularly to its social media pages. On Tuesday, the group shared video footage showing “threats and acts of violence” against truck drivers carrying cargo in Cotopaxi province, in the central part of the country. Other industry companies have been sharing updates on the status of production, logistics, worker safety, farms’ difficulties in receiving supplies and worries about the short- and long-term repercussions of the current situation.
“As an importer heavily connected to Ecuador, we foresee many delays for at least [the] next week on product, with varying levels of scarcity issues,” wrote Sal DiPalermo, director of sales for A. Perri Farms, headquartered in Bayport, New York, on Facebook. “Some areas of the country are more affected than others. Roses seems to be less affected than summer flowers (stock, delph, lark, bells, etc.), but even these generalizations are regional. Our farms and consolidators are doing their best to get product out as quickly as possible. We will inform you on an individual basis if we are finding any delays on your orders.”
Tim Dewey, group vice president of procurement, e-commerce, marketing and quality for DVFlora, said his company is closely monitoring the situation. “Many of the farms will close Wednesday to ensure the safety of their employees, so shipments being delivered to airlines may be very small,” said Dewey, a member of the Society of American Florists’ Wholesalers Council.
Dewey said Tuesday that complications have intensified in the last few days. “Initially, [the protests] did not stop many flower shipments,” he explained. “That situation has changed now, as more roads have been blocked in some areas and there have been protests and vandalism at some farms. I would say that about 70 percent of our shipments made it [Monday] night and we are closely monitoring the situation with our farms to see what can be delivered to the airport. Our concern is for the workers and their families at the farms, and we hope the situation is resolved soon to allow for normality to resume.”
Scott Cheeseman, a branch manager with Kennicott Brothers, based in Chicago, agreed that safety is a top concern and that roadblocks, threats of violence and farm closures are creating uncertainty. “[It’s an] unpredictable situation, so we are working day to day,” he said.
Oscar Fernandez, sales director of Equiflor/Rio Roses said “so far, we have been very fortunate to be able and get 98 percent of our flowers out without any incidents. Not all farms have been so fortunate.” Fernandez, a member of SAF’s board of directors, added that “Ecuadorian product shipping from Miami should be fine through Friday [Oct. 11]. Product shipping from Miami starting Monday and beyond will be greatly affected if this continues. Hopefully, there will be a resolution shortly, so we can all go back to business as usual.”
Jaramillo said he is “positive in the coming days the country will start going back to normal” and the growers will be able to return to business, but, he added, the fallout from current events is sobering. “Every single sector of the economy has been hurt by this situation,” he said.
Look for ongoing coverage of this story in future SAF publications.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management.