QUITO -- Ecuador's flower growers are confident that sales for Valentine's Day, the day of the patron saint of lovers, will not drop significantly compared with 2008, but fear that the effects of the international crisis will hit them hard in the second half of the year.
In an interview with Efe, Gonzalo Luzuriaga, president of Expoflores, an association representing growers with 80 percent of the total surface of flower crops for export, said that demand could suffer a drop of some 15 percent for Valentine's Day, the best time of the year for flower growers.
He said the ideal situation would be if there is no growth, to be able to export at least the same amount as last year for Feb. 14, a date when people are accustomed to giving flowers, above all in the United States and Europe.
Luzuriaga acknowledged that "prices may be a little cheaper," but thought that sales "will be good."
"The problem will come in the summer - I think that summer is going to be tough" for the Ecuadorian flower-growing sector if the international crisis follows its current trend, he said.
Luzuriaga said that as of Jan. 27, Ecuador has exported some 22,842 boxes of flowers to the U.S. market and 13,402 to Europe, quantities very similar to last year.
The flower industry represents 3 percent of Ecuador's total volume of sales abroad, after oil, which contribues 58.4 percent, bananas and shrimp.
Between January and November 2008, flower exports reached $523.8 million, enough to exceed the previous record for a full year, according to the Central Bank.
Nonetheless, the crisis has affected several markets that usually buy Ecuadorian flowers such as Ukraine, which is now buying only about 10 percent of what it formerly purchased from Ecuadorian growers, Luzuriaga said.
He also mentioned the case of the Russian ruble, which has suffered a slow but steady decline.
"That is obviously going to have its effect, above all on small importers" who are normally less able to withstand financial problems abroad, he said.
Nonetheless, he noted that the former Soviet republics have the habit of buying flowers, which makes him believe that "demand for Valentine's Day and Mother's Day (on March 8) will be maintained" in those countries.
Despite the difficulties, Luzuriaga said that "things are fairly normal and it's going to be a normal Valentine's Day," even considering the fact that Colombia, the world's second flower exporter after Holland and a direct competitor of Ecuador, has "better economic advantages and can export for lower and lower prices," he said.
Colombian has improved its export possibilities, while Ecuador, since pegging its currency to the dollar in 2000, has seen rising production costs and "no way to lower them," he said.
"A Colombian flower grower produces a rose for 20 cents and we do it for 35 cent," which makes Ecuadorian products less competitive, Luzuriaga said. EFE