Those thick-stemmed roses with large flowers in bright colours? It is quite likely they stem from Ecuador. Here, at the equator, there is plenty of sunlight while the nights remain quite cool. As a result, the young plants grow slowly but develop fully, and the roses grow firm and large.
Increasingly, nowadays, growers in Ecuador are also discovering cultivation on coconut substrates as an option. Horticoop Andina SA is their supplier. It’s about time to meet up with the Dutch general manager, Martin Boekholt.
‘Pioneering’. That is how Martin Boekholt would characterise his work in Ecuador. “Together with my business partner, I started this company back in 1998. We were basically pioneering at the time, and in a way that hasn’t changed,” he says. As a subsidiary of Dutch Horticoop BV, his company has grown to become the principal supplier of products for Ecuador’s floriculture and horticulture sectors. Think fertilisers, plant protection products and substrates. “When I say pioneering, I mean you can’t compare the sector here to that in the Netherlands. The climate alone means crops grow entirely differently. There is also plenty of highland cultivation, going up to well over two thousand metres in altitude. This means the demands from the market are quite different, too.”
Meeting with the government
Most of Horticoop Andina’s clients are rose growers. “These are big companies, sometimes spanning hundreds of hectares. Their flowers are mainly grown in soil, but coconut substrates, and especially the blocks, are being used more and more. Most pot plant growers work with the local soil or peat. The advancement of coconut substrates is not an automatic process by any means. Coconut coir is still seen more as mattress filler material than as suitable for use in the horticulture sector. It can take a fair bit of effort to get clients to see the added value of the material. On top of that, both the VAT rate and import taxes that apply are high. Which is a pity, because we truly believe in these substrates. I even contacted the government personally on the matter. But they went a little overboard in their response and would have almost reformed the entire existing legislation on substrates.”
The future in Ecuador
Still, Martin Boekholt is optimistic about the future of coconut substrates in Ecuador. “Look, generally, the horticultural sector here is quite basic. Take strawberries. They simply stick them in the ground and see what happens. But the cultivation of roses is highly professional. The sector is doing well and I expect it will only improve in the future.” And his personal future in Ecuador? “Well, I can’t say I know. My wife is from Colombia. She was the reason I ventured out to South America in the first place, but the country was dangerous at the time. That is how we ended up in Ecuador. I have one son who is studying in Rotterdam, at the Erasmus University, and my other son is studying in Sweden. In Europe, university-level education is just much better than it is here. Our daughter still lives at home for now. We’ll see what the future brings.”