Some mates with… Cristha Arntzen

14 Jun 2023

This month we talked with the person in charge of the commercial area of the Cooperativa Agrícola Mixta de Monte Carlo. She tells us the details of the production, processing and marketing of organic yerba mate “Pampa”.

What is the history of the cooperative?

This cooperative was founded in 1930 in Montecarlo, province of Misiones. Therefore, we have 93 years of history. Today the Cooperativa Agrícola Mixta de Monte Carlo has more than 800 active members, most of them small producers. Its main activities are the production, processing and commercialization of yerba mate and manioc starch; although it also owns supermarkets and service stations, and is dedicated to the collection and commercialization of wood for the cellulose pulp industry. He is also a sales agent for one of the most important insurance companies in the country.

What is your mission, vision and values when it comes to production?

Our mission is to produce, elaborate and distribute products and services of the highest quality in a sustainable manner, for the benefit of our associates, employees, community and customers. Based on cooperative principles.

While our vision is to be an example of commitment, integration and belonging to transform dreams into reality.

That is why we work with the values of honesty, commitment, justice, respect, self-improvement, humility and mutual help.

Why did you decide to turn to organic production?

At the beginning, the cooperative was only dedicated to the production of conventional yerba mate. In 2008, we started with the idea of making an incursion into organic yerba mate, based on consumer demand. We had the Pampa brand that we were not using, so we decided to go into organic production, producing organic yerba mate.

What was the journey to become organic?

It was a long road, but we are proud to have made it. We already had the idea in 2008, but at the beginning we did not have our own production. As we were thinking about the product and exhibiting it at fairs with its packaging, we noticed a growing interest from consumers because they chose it over the traditional one, even though the packaging was empty at the beginning. This gave us the guideline to start, so in 2015 we began to get certified with OIA. In that year we only had certified the final production of yerba mate. Since we did not have our own production, we started to work with the people of Cuatro Caminos, who at that time produced the product and we only marketed it. From that moment on we saw that the demand increased more and more, so the next step was to certify our own establishment in order to be able to make the product in Montecarlo, Misiones. So we were able to certify our yerba mate mill, and thus we started to produce Pampa brand yerba mate in our establishment. However, the raw material was still from third parties. Then we had a small group of producers in our membership who wanted to venture into organic production and so in the cooperative we encouraged and accompanied them so that they could certify their plantations. Today we have 10 producers of the cooperative itself, who have so far 150 hectares of certified plantations. Currently we not only buy raw material from third parties (because demand is still too high for us to supply it), but we also produce our own. We are also seeking to integrate the entire chain, which is why we are in the last process of certifying the yerba mate dryer.

How important is certification?

Certification is the document that allows you to prove that you have the traceability of an organic product. It also lets you know that a product is environmentally friendly because no agrochemicals are used in its production. Being certified organic is not merely an economic issue but a philosophy of life. We are convinced of the added value and benefits of organic production for human beings and the environment.

How is the yerba mate production process?

Yerba mate begins in a plantation, where we know that the land has the endorsement of a certification. For that, there are between 2 and 3 years of monitoring and transition according to the regulations. After the conditions are met, the plantation is ready to harvest and to have an organic certification. Our producers in the cooperative all harvest within the same period to optimize the use of infrastructure. It is also important to note that all organic dryers must be certified and guarantee the safety of the leaf drying process. This leaf is then dried for a day and the dried yerba is coarsely ground (known as yerba canchada). It is then stored in large bags, where it is stored for 12 months in exclusive warehouses that guarantee the care of the organic product. After this period and when the yerba mate reaches its optimum conditions, the elaboration process begins. This process consists of grinding the yerba mate, which is done in a mill that is certified to ensure traceability. In order to achieve an adequate blend, the milling is established by a recipe for the product. The final result is a very soft yerba mate, with a semi-coarse, light grind and low dust content. To finish the process, the yerba is packaged in 500grs packages and is dispatched before being marketed.

What are the benefits of organic production?

One knows that one is consuming a guaranteed product that is free of any agrochemicals and that allows the conservation of soil and water. In addition, organic production protects biodiversity and is good for the body, because it is a positive chain.

How is the commercialization process?

The commercialization of yerba is in packages of 500 gr. While the production of green leaf projected for this year is 1,000,000 kgs. Currently our marketing projection is 80,000 kgs in the domestic market. While for the foreign market this year we will export 20,000 kg, distributed in the European and North American markets.

Our sales chain includes distributors, which allows us to reach retail supermarkets, regional supermarkets, health food stores and we are also selling a lot online.

What are your contact channels?

We invite you to visit the Cooperative’s website as well as Pampa’s website and its social networks on Facebook and Instagram

What plans does the cooperative have for the future?

We are moving forward in the short term, with the certification of our dryer. We also want to continue adding more producers to encourage them to produce organically. This way we can reach more people, so that they can get to know our product, since it is increasingly in demand throughout the country and abroad. And in the long term we would like to make more organic products derived from yerba mate.