Published on January 13th, 2010 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg6
Can Organic Yerba Mate Save the Amazon Rainforest?
If you’re an American reader, you may well be asking “yerba what-tay?” That’s understandable: Elephant Journal described this caffeinated drink as “the soccer (football) of the natural products world—popular and well-loved, but unknown in the US.” It’s catching on, though, and Guayaki Yerba Mate (which is sold in the sustainablog store in organic loose tea form) is partially, if not largely, responsible for its growing popularity.
EJ made the comment above in the context of naming Guayaki its “Company of the Year” award. While its role in bringing the beverage to the Northern Hemisphere may have played a small part in that, its business model really made the company stand out. Many businesses are taking strides towards greater sustainability, carbon neutrality, and fairer practices with suppliers, but Guayaki hasn’t just built these elements into how it does business: its “Market Driven Restoration” model provides economic incentive to its South American growers to not only protect, but to restore, the Amazon rainforest land where they grow organic yerba mate plants.
Yerba Mate Needs Trees… lots of ‘em
As with coffee, shade grown yerba mate not only keeps forest ecosystems in place, but also produces a better product. So Guayaki doesn’t just buy from farmers in Amazonian regions — it also partners with them to plant trees in deforested regions. According to their description of the arrangement,
Once a farmer agrees to partner with us, we provide technical advice on how to create nurseries, help them manage the organic growing process from cultivation through harvest and then buy what they produce. The farmers, in turn, must repopulate their rain forest with the native hardwood trees — which restores the land to its original shaded, biodiverse state — and provides a living wage and fair working conditions.
In short, a farmer benefits financially from preserving and restoring rainforests: more restored land means more growing space, and more product to sell to Guayaki. The company’s Fair Trade certification from the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) means that these farmers are receiving a living wage for producing their crop sustainably. Guayaki has produced a short video overview of the program.
The critics on “Market Driven Restoration” for Guayaki Yerba Mate: thumbs up!
As I mentioned before, we sell Guayaki yerba mate in the store… so I wanted to make sure that my interpretation of this program wasn’t colored by that fact. Just a little digging around produced a number of positive reviews (besides Elephant Journal’s):
- Paula Alvarado at Treehugger dug into the program, specifically the Ache Guayaki Kue-Tuvy project in Paraguay.
- Siel, aka Green LA Girl, has an overview of all of the company’s carbon reduction activities.
- The Harvard Business Review listed Guayaki as an example of a “hybrid” business that effectively merges profitability with its social and environmental missions.
So, are you a yerba mate fan? Or ready to try it (I am… I haven’t yet)? Think this is a sustainable business model in all senses? Let us know what you think…
Images courtesy of Guayaki