Colombia ~Surrounded by Guerillas and Mafia!?~

By Ushio Nakagawa,
Representative in Bogota

Everyone, how much do you know about Republic of Colombia? It’s a South American country that straddles the equator. When you make a telephone call, its country code is 57. If you check an ordinal Japanese guidebook, its introduction is only a few pages long, as it’s not so familiar to Japanese people because of a great distance between the two countries.
If you’re looking for negative images, they’re easy to find. Just look at the movies: in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Behind Enemy Lines, Clear and Present Danger, Collateral Damage, and so on, Colombia is invariably portrayed as a country of guerillas, mafia, drugs…

Geographically speaking, Colombia is the central Andean country, located in the northern part of South America; it has an area approximately three times that of Japan. The population is 46 million; and within this exquisitely beautiful country can be found six categories of nature, including the Andes Mountains, towering 6,000m above sea level; coastlines bordering the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea; and jungle. Colombia is also rich in natural resources such as oil, coal, gold, and emeralds, while also being well-known as an exporter of agricultural products such as coffee and roses.

I live in the capital of this country, Bogota. Located in a basin in the Andes Mountains, Bogota has a high altitude of 2,600m above sea level. On fine days the sky stretching above is a transparent blue, yet when the clouds gather there can be fierce rain and lightening like nothing on earth. Bogota city overflows with greenery; building facades are almost uniformly red brick, from a distance presenting a very romantic and beautiful image. At the same time, the roads are actually full of potholes because the national budget is used to fund security measures. If you go to a bar, you may be shown to your seat with a big smile and hospitality, but the time between your order and your beer arriving flows almost too languidly. Even Japanese people, too, are soon welcomed as friends after shouting, “Amigo! Amigo!” a few times.

Here in Colombia I import agricultural chemicals from Japan and other countries around the world and sell these to local wholesale and retail stores. I began first of all with agricultural chemicals for use on roses and carnations, which are important export products for the Bogota area, and now the business has spread nationwide and expanded to include vegetables, rice, and other food crops. In the case of agricultural chemicals, business is not completed with a sale. Technical guidance and after-sale service to make sure the safety of food and of the people using such agricultural chemicals are extremely important, and we have 18 agronomists on staff at our offices throughout Colombia whose work involves not only sales but also educational activities to ensure everyday safety.

A party for special customers following the sales season.

Working as I do in the local area, I place great importance on building relationships of trust. In the case of young and inexperienced people such as me who need to lead local staff, including older people, or who need to conduct business negotiations with older presidents of client companies, mutual trust is particularly important. While respecting each other’s humanity, in business it is vital that what needs to be said is said and that arguments occur, but also that afterwards everything can be washed smoothly away with una cerveza - a beer - this has been a good experience for me which would be difficult to encounter in Japan.

Finally, I’d like to say something to dispel the bad images of Colombia mentioned above. Under the security measures implemented by President Uribe since he took office in 2002, safety in Columbia has been gradually improving. Since I am a foreigner here, it is still too early to let down my guard too much, but happily the area is becoming safe enough for me to be able to enjoy my working life and private life with a few adjustments. Those of you who are reading this report, I hope that you will forget its title and replace it with “What Summit Agro International Can Do to Ensure the Safe and Secure Lives of the People of the World in COLOMBIA!”