Colombia: Strong Personal Ties Rule in the Emerald Country

By Koyo Ito,
Representative in Bogota

Colombia is a country of seemingly endless parties. As long as the music plays—whether it be salsa, vallenato, cumbia or some other type of Latin music—people will keep dancing and downing shots of Colombian aguardiente liquor. We often hold seminars to promote our crop protection and other related products. Whenever we hold a seminar in Colombia, we invariably wrap up the event with one of these seemingly endless parties.

Colombian culture is a mixture of Spanish (the country’s former colonial power), indigenous, and African cultures. The aforementioned aguardiente, meaning “fiery water,” is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane. Trying this drink, with its strong, distinctive aroma, is a virtual initiation rite for anyone who visits Colombia. Traditional Colombian music, meanwhile, is diverse, having its origins in Andean and African music. The rhythms of Colombian music can be found in the songs of Shakira and Juanes, Colombian singers who enjoy tremendous popularity worldwide.

I began this report by mentioning drinking and music because these two things are indispensable to life in Colombia. Alcohol and music help people to open themselves up to others and forge connections, which is one of the most cherished values of local people. Knowing this, we drink and dance happily with our clients in order to build and maintain good relationships with them and make our products and services better understood.

Sumitomo Corporation Colombia started sales of agricultural materials such as crop protection and fertilizers in 1996. Currently, some 30 staff members are striving to help develop Colombian agriculture under the slogan “Juntos lo Hacemos Mejor” (“Let’s work together to take on new challenges”). To facilitate close communications and good working relationships with local suppliers and farmers who share our deep commitment to developing the country’s agricultural industry, we have established a “Club Kaizen.” Through this and other locally rooted activities, we are making unrelenting efforts to contribute to the progress and prosperity of agriculture in Colombia.

While we’re on the subject of agriculture, Colombia is famous for its coffee production. But did you know that it is also the world’s second-largest exporter of cut flowers? Or that it is the largest exporter of carnations to the Japanese market? The export of cut flowers involves rigorous quarantine inspections at the airport of the importing country. For this reason, high-quality Japanese insecticides and fungicides are very popular among flower growers here. In addition to promoting our farming products, we strive to develop a value chain for the flower industry by holding seminars on the Japanese cut flower market and offering other support for local farmers who are interested in exporting their flowers to Japan.

You may be surprised to hear that Colombia’s staple food is rice. As rice growing is one of the most recognizable elements of Japan’s food culture, we focus on promoting Japanese-style paddy farming. Specifically, two years ago we imported rice transplanters and combine harvesters from Japan and have been promoting the shift from traditional, manual rice-growing methods to machine-use farming. That being said, Japan and Colombia have different climatic conditions and irrigation infrastructure. We therefore still need to come up with appropriate methods for cultivating the soil and building seedling boxes that will be compatible with local conditions. In our effort to find optimal methodologies we have been engaging in a long process of trial and error.

To finish up, I would like to share some unique aspects of Colombian society and culture. The country’s capital city, Bogota, is divided into six socio-economic “Estratos” (strata). Residents of the two wealthiest areas are charged higher water and energy rates than people living in the other areas. If you buy a product from a supermarket chain, the price will differ depending on the store’s location. In this sense, it’s probably fair to say that Colombian society is benevolent and benign. People here are calm and laid-back. It can be seen in the supermarkets, shoppers push around huge carts, which they usually manage to fill up. The cashiers are usually slow, but people don’t seem to mind waiting in long checkout lines. Some people even wait in line munching on the products they intend to buy. At the checkout, they show the cashier the empty package. I think there are lots of Japanese people who wouldn’t believe their eyes if they saw this, but it is a good illustration of the accepting nature of Colombian society.