HOW HONDURAS DEVELOPED EXPORTS OF ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS
Artificial flower exports produced by 360 women in seven rural communities in southern Honduras came to US$120,000 in 1988 and $300,000 in 1989. They are expected to reach the $500,000 mark this year and surpass $1 million in 1991. In addition to contributing to overall foreign exchange earnings, these exports have supported the country's rural development activities, in particular its efforts to generate employment in rural areas and to use the potential that exists among women in this sector. The way in which these exports were developed, including the problems encountered and how they were overcome, may provide ideas for other developing countries considering export-oriented rural development activities.
A new product
Honduran exports are mainly rural based. Traditional exports are coffee, bananas, sugar and beef. Among the nontraditional exports developed in recent years have been handmade, artificial flowers, which were introduced in the country in 1975 when a handicrafts specialist working for the Ministry of Labor taught several groups of Honduran women to manufacture them. The flowers had the advantage of using raw materials readily available in the countryside: vegetable glue, crepe paper, fish scales, thorns, seeds, flower sepals and locally manufactured tie wire. They also were an attractive product from the overall development point of view because they involved rural women who could do this work in their homes. Although some groups of women in urban centres were among those who initially learned the craft, those groups ceased to exist after a year or two.
By 1978 only a few rural groups in the villages in the Sabanagrande area (about 50 miles from the capital) continued producing artificial flowers. (The Sabanagrande area is in the arid southern region of the country, where agriculture is on a subsistence level.) They sold them in the streets and in a local marketplace, as well as in downtown Tegucigalpa. To bring their flowers to the market in Tegucigalpa the women had to take a five-hour van ride (leaving at 4:00 a.m.). They then had to sell their flowers by 1:00 p.m., the last ones at any price, in order to catch the van back to their villages the same day.
Some attempts were made to export these flowers. A local businessman, working with 50 women from two of the villages, started an export venture to the United States that led to sales approaching $20,000 in 1979. However as he did not exercise sufficient quality control, the flowers became infested with insects and, in some cases, came apart at the joints when they reached the U.S. retail stores. The export effort was soon discontinued, and the producing groups began to disband.
The production skills remained, however, and the Government decided to take steps to develop the flowers into viable export products as one means to provide employment to rural women in the area and stem the migratory pressures towards the cities. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Trade asked ITC to include these flowers as one of three product groups in a new export development project to be carried out in the country, financed by the Government of Switzerland.
One of the initial activities to develop these exports was to analyze the supply and demand situation. According to a 1984 survey undertaken by the General Directorate of Foreign Trade in conjunction with an ITC product development adviser, 190 women in the area were still able to produce the artificial flowers, and a few were continuing to do so for sales on the local market.
To assess demand among foreign buyers, an ITC marketing consultant and a Honduran official carried out a market survey in the eastern part of the United States. The study showed that the product life cycle of the flowers as they were currently designed had come to an end-small orders could be obtained, but only at very low prices. …