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Deflowering Ecuador: The Bloom is off the Rose in Cayambe Valley, Homeland of Your Valentine Bouquet

StoryFebruary 14, 2003
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Today is Valentine’s Day, and a lot of people are going to give or receive roses. We speak with Ross Wehner about his article in Mother Jones magazine, “Deflowering Ecuador,” which documents the harsh conditions faced by workers in Ecuador’s booming rose industry. From Ecuador, we’re joined by Diego Bonifaz, mayor of Cayambe. And from Oregon, we speak with organic farmer Paul Sansone.

“The equatorial sun beats down on the clear plastic roof of a greenhouse in the Cayambe Valley of Ecuador. Despite the suffocating heat, the workers inside move at a frantic pace. In two weeks it will be Valentine’s Day, and every rose in sight will be for sale in the United States. Women stand at tables, hands flying as they sort roses by the length and size of the head, arranging them in bunches of 25. Teenagers, mostly boys, run from table to table, carrying the roses to the next room. The flowers have already been treated with chemicals to kill insects and mildew; now they are dunked in preservatives to keep them from rotting during their journey through U.S. Customs. After being wrapped in cellophane and boxed, the flowers are chilled and flown overnight to Miami. By the time they reach florists and supermarkets across the country, a rose that cost less than 17 cents to produce in Ecuador will sell for as much as $8.

The article goes on to say: “But international agencies and workers in the valley paint a markedly different picture of the industry: Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and soil fumigants used in the greenhouses are causing serious health problems for Ecuador’s 60,000 rose workers — especially the women and children who sort and package the flowers prior to shipping.”

We’ll be joined in a minute by the mayor of Cayambe and an organic farmer from Oregon. We start with Ross Wehner, author of the article in Mother Jones.


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