Agrocoex is a family-owned business established in 1992.
Back then they had one small farm with 15 employees. Their roses were sold to one customer, shipping one day per week. Now, they produce more than 65,000 stems per day on three farms with more than 250 full-time employees. Their vision is to be recognized in the flower industry as a leading company in quality and consistency. As a Fairtrade certified company they are committed to position themselves in markets that appreciate and reward these added values.
’ Diego Espinosa
Being successful with Fairtrade flowers in Ecuador is a matter of altitude, latitude and attitude!
Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, with roses making up about three quarters of the total. Over 100,000 people are employed in the industry.
From the Agrocoex website: “Roses grown in Ecuador have the advantage of perpendicular sun light 365 days a year. This allows for stems and buds to grow naturally long and straight. Altitude plays a major role, being one of the few farms located at 3200m above sea level, more than 10000 feet, we are able to produce roses with big buds, long and strong stems, beautiful foliage and vibrant colors. The cool and dry climate with temperatures between 10 and 20 degrees keeps disease risk low and reduces the need for chemicals. All these advantages make Ecuador the perfect location to produce roses all year round.”
Production and Sales
The flower business is very fashion-driven – the company needs to constantly be aware of consumer trends and new varieties coming on the market. A royalty has to be paid for each new plant, which will produce up to 12 stems per year for 7 years.
At harvest, 20-30 roses of uniform size are picked and put in a net. They are then taken to the processing area where they are sorted and packed according to customer requirements. From there the roses are shipped internationally and should last for a week or more once they are displayed in your home.
Their biggest event of the year is Valentine’s Day. Work starts in November to prepare the plants for peak production in late January and early February when more than 2 million stems will be produced.
Agrocoex became Fairtrade certified in 2005. They chose Fairtrade because they were looking for strict standards and market relationships.
For its Fairtrade sales, Agrocoex is paid the relevant commercial price for the product. On top of this, the enterprise receives a Fairtrade Premium, equivalent to 10% of the market price, for the workers to invest in social projects of their choice. Premium funds are managed by a Premium Committee which has the task of proposing, carrying out, and overseeing premium projects selected by the workers.
Currently around a quarter of their production is sold as Fairtrade, though they could sell much more, so they are always looking for new markets and encourage Canadian consumers to ask for more Fairtrade certified roses.
’ Agrocoex worker.
Other flower farms have a lack of care for the workers, no fumigation protocol and no proper equipment. Here they take care of their workers.
The farms have strict environmental standards for the handling and use of chemicals. The workers are trained thoroughly and provided with protective clothing and equipment. No one can enter the greenhouse for a set period of time after spraying has taken place.
For the 250 workers, there are additional benefits such as extra vacation, a bonus plan, extended maternity benefits and childcare located near the farms, and paid overtime for peak periods like Valentine’s Day.
Fairtrade Premium Projects
The biggest project created with the Fairtrade Premium is a brand new housing development for workers to live with their families. (Shown here just before families started moving in.) This allows some of them to live much closer to the farm, thereby reducing their daily travel time, as well as living in much improved conditions. The cost to workers is significantly below market value, and the company has helped arrange for low-rate bank loans as needed to make the houses affordable to their workers.
To date, 34 houses have been built, with the long-term plan for more than 100, so there is a waiting list. As well as the houses, the development includes a community cultural centre, a coop store, a laundry, and a nursery.
Additional Premium projects:
- The company provides access to schooling for the workers’ children, including English classes.
- A computer centre allows workers and their families to learn beneficial skills otherwise unavailable in the rural areas.
- The company provides scholarships to workers to allow them to further their education and access better life opportunities.
- A dental facility was built for the workers, with the cost of the dentist visits covered by Agrocoex.
- A laundry facility on the farm allows workers to do laundry at low cost during the work day, therefore allowing them more free time on the weekends, when they would normally wash their clothes in rivers.
Photos by Gabriela Warrior Renaud and Ian Brown