Culture Can Organic Yerba Mate Save the Amazon Rainforest?

Published on January 13th, 2010 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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Can Organic Yerba Mate Save the Amazon Rainforest?

Guayaki San Mateo and gourdIf 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

yerba mate farmerAs 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):

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



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



  • http://www.openlybalanced.com Jess @ Openly Balanced

    I love mate, but had no idea what an eco-friendly preference my taste could be. Maybe next time I run out of my go-to breakfast tea, I’ll order some and try to switch over. Addiction substitution.

    I do wonder how replacing the traditional undergrowth with cultivated mate affects the overall ecology of the forest. But even if there are some negative aspects, certainly it is SO much better than clearing the forest entirely!

  • http://ecopolitology.org Tim

    Personally, I like to drink yerba mate in the summer, iced. It’s quite good. I sometimes drink it hot too — I even have my own bombilla. But when it comes to hot drinks, I’m largely a coffee guy at heart.

  • http://twitter.com/patriciapafonso Patricia

    I’m Brazilian and I love mate!! I really enjoyed the article, congratulations!

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  • Kristen

    Jeff,

    Great article! I used to be a yerba mate drinker before I discovered guayusa here in Ecuador (I know that sounds like a TV Infomercial). The only company that I know of so far who even produces it commercially is Runa, and after reviewing their pages and even speaking with some staff, I’ve come to realize how socially sustainable they are. You should take a look into it. I personally like to drink guayusa for the non-jittery and non-bitter energy I get all day from a cup in the morning, but after looking into what Runa does for not only the indigenous farmers, but the environment, I’m a fan for life. To get a quick example, I suggest you check out their website, specifically the sustainable development page that they have (http://www.runa.org/doinggood/sustainable.aspx).
    I’d be interested to see if someone has done a sustainability article on guayusa and Runa.
    Again, great article!

    Kristen

  • http://sustainablog.org Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    I’ll check it out, Kristen… thanks for the heads up!

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