Buy a Rose For Mom and Help a Mother in S. America

Buying some roses, carnations or chrysanthemums for mom this weekend? Chances are your freshly cut flowers came from Colombia.

Yep, that's right. While the South American country might be better known for growing and exporting other products like coffee, Colombia is the largest supplier of flowers to the United States.

In fact, three out of four flowers imported to the United States come from Colombia, according to The Colombian Association of Flower Exporters, known as Asocolflores.

Flower growing, one of the country's biggest industries, also plays a vital employment role for a country struggling with high poverty and unemployment. Now, Colombian flower growers are trying to promote programs to help Colombian mothers who pick and prepare flowers that are sent to the United States.

Vital Jobs in a Poor Country

Nearly half of all Colombians live below the poverty line, and the country has an unemployment rate of 11 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Amid all that poverty, cut flowers are a large part of Colombia's legal agriculture, surpassed in export value only by coffee.

The industry has 98,000 direct jobs and estimates that 60 percent of its workers are women. In many rural areas, flower growing is the largest employer of women, according to Asocolflores.

This year Asocolflores is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Florverde, a certification program created to improve the living standards of farm workers and their families and to protect the environment.

"Buying these flowers they are providing a lot of jobs to Colombian women who are heads of households," Augusto Solano, president of Asocolflores, said in a phone interview from Colombia.

The flower-growing companies said they also provided child-care programs for 18,000 children, and had helped 4,633 families with subsidies to acquire or improve their homes.

In 2005, Colombia sent 902 million roses to the United States, according to the Department of Agriculture. Heading north were also 593 million carnations, 481 million chrysanthemums and 277 million other freshly cut flowers.

That's a lot of pollens: nearly $420 million worth of flowers sent to the United States each year.

Educating the Female Work Force

There are 137 companies and 167 farms participating in the Florverde program.

As part of the program, farm owners educate women who have been displaced by violence -- 1,027 to date -- about flower growing. They also push initiatives aimed at growing blackberries and garden produce for additional family income.

The association is also pushing an environmentally friendly farming policy. The association uses drip irrigation, which allows it to use less water than traditional sprinkler irrigation. Additionally, half of its farms' water needs are met from rainfall that is captured and stored for later use.

So this Mother's Day when you pick up a bouquet of carnations for mom, think for a second about all the other mothers that made it possible for the flowers to arrive in your store.