Mate Farming: A South American Tale

Restore

Blog Post #7

Jonathan Esparza

Economic side of Production- Guayaki

Traditionally, the yerba mate plant had been quietly grown for centuries and brewed by the indigenous people as a traditional symbol of community. However, it was only over the last 15 years that we have seen the yerba mate industry grow to become the multi-million dollar industry it is today. Most of the mate products sold around the world use mate grown from the unique forest areas surrounding Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay’s borders.  Back in the late 1900’s, mate farms were heavily supported by governments regulations. New market changes due to new political reforms, however, left small farmers defenseless to large mate farming competitors. Unable to compete, farmers were left with no choice but to sell their lands to corporations just to make ends meet. Through a terrible combination of events leading to corporations saturating the market with massive supplies of mate and the lack of government regulation of the industry, mate market prices plummeted, as well as the profits. Small scale farmers saw yields traditionally selling for about $10,000 dollars sell for $1,000! During this time, farmers established local organizations for small farmers to continue the fight against larger commercial farms, but often failed. Though the 90’s ushered in a new government for Argentina, the political changes of the time did little to help the small mate farms maintain their work; unable to produce a sustainable yield that can support their families, farmers continued selling their land to expanding mate corporations. By 2007, four corporations owned nearly 80% of the mate market in Argentina.

Paraguay in the late 90’s also saw the same shift in agricultural reform benefiting large corporate farmers, which led some indigenous communities to leave the area. The Ache Guayakí people were one of the smallest indigenous group in the country who faced the pressures of losing the rainforest they use to survive and were ultimately forced to leave their homeland. When the 2 American founders of the company, Alex and David, came in contact with the local Aché Guayakí in 1996, the hope of a better life brought them back to their ancestral territory. Now it is in selling mate that the Guayakí company helps the communities earn the means to preserve their culture and community by working alongside them as business partners. The indigenous people take care of their own lands and reap the benefits from selling to Guayakí, which contributes to the company’s success in establishing other strong networks across the region like their relationship to the Ache peoples who harvest crops grown within rainforests to sell internationally. Not only is Guayakí working with local communities in Paraguay, but they also work with farmers from Argentina and Brazil to improve the communities’ livelihoods, their own livelihoods, and all while maintaining their environment.

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Mate Farming: A South American Tale

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