Ecuadorian flower industry turns to hemp as rose sales decline
At one of Ecuador's oldest flower farms, workers are planting hemp on land traditionally used for roses, betting that the sale of cannabinoid products will help offset the decline in flower sales caused by the pandemic.
The drop in sales caused by the coronavirus epidemic has dealt a heavy blow to the Ecuadorian flower sector, one of the Andean nation's traditional export industries, forcing farms to cut production or seek to reinvent themselves.
Boutique Flowers farm in Tabacundo, an hour north of the capital Quito, has built cannabis greenhouses to take advantage of recent legal reforms that allow the cultivation of this plant, although marijuana remains illegal.
Marijuana contains higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the cannabinoid that causes euphoria - than hemp. Ecuadorian law requires cannabis to contain less than 1% THC.
“The project was born out of difficult times,” said Klaus Graetzer, floriculture director at Boutique Flowers and president of the CannAndes hemp startup. During the pandemic, the flower industry was hit hard. We saw the opportunity to take advantage of this new regulation. "
Its 30-hectare farm has reduced its rose production by 37,5%, to 15 million stems in 2020, due to a drop in orders from the United States, Europe and Russia, its main markets.
Flower exports to Ecuador fell 8% last year, according to the association of flower growers and exporters Expofores. But CannAndes sees it as a real opportunity in the niche of the hemp flower market that can be used as a treatment for nausea or anxiety, for example.
Hemp flowers do not have psychotropic effects and can be produced with much of the traditional infrastructure of the flower industry. CBD oils, on the other hand, require industrial machinery to separate the oil from the plant material.
“The idea is to succeed in exporting smokable CBD flowers in Switzerland : it is the biggest market for this flower ”, declared Felipe Norton, director of CannAndes. "Considering the experience we have with flowers, this is a good opportunity".
CannAndes plans to start exports within the next two years, and is seeking licenses from the Ecuadorian authorities to sell CBD products such as body care creams, as well as edible teas and oils for chocolates and candies.
Ecuadorian flower industry leaders remain skeptical of hemp because the value of associated products fluctuates sharply with changes in consumption patterns and government regulatory decisions, said Expoflores President Alejandro Martinez .
At the end of 2019, Ecuador legalized the imports of hemp seeds, as well as the production, marketing and export of hemp. The Ministry of Agriculture has approved 46 ten-year licenses for different phases of hemp development.
"We have the climatic and pedological conditions to grow crops, but it will be demand that will dictate the level of supply," said declared the Ecuadorian Deputy Minister of Productive Development, Ney Barrionuevo. "For now, it is nascent."