Yerba Mate CAÁ, a step beyond organic production
10 Nov 2022
The Yerba Mate CAÁ model aims to add the yerba mate sector to the challenge of forest and field conservation. Promoted by the organization Aves Argentinas, it directly promotes the protection of biodiversity.
In its desire for progress, humanity devastated everything. Industrialization was tearing down ecosystems in pursuit of producing more and more, at any cost. Even that which comes from the land itself was intervened and, along the way, the biodiversity of each region was destroyed. Fortunately, all is not yet lost and there are those who fight to protect these vital territories for the planet and for the species. There is another way of doing things: the Yerba Mate CAÁ (Bird-Friendly Farming) model is a clear example of this.
It is a project promoted by the organization Aves Argentinas, which aims to conserve the forest together with the yerba mate sector. Yerba mate, which has become the main agricultural product generated from Argentina’s biodiversity, is a native tree of the Selva Misionera, of commercial and social relevance in Misiones and Corrientes. From its Atlantic Forest Project, Aves Argentinas presents this model to add the yerba mate sector to the challenge of forest and field conservation.
With a team working in the territory, in alliance with public and private institutions, the organization is creating, strengthening and restoring protected areas; activating projects with endangered bird species; producing quality information; training human resources; and promoting the development of the communities where it works. All this, with the aim of conserving biodiversity with protected areas, contributing to environmental education and land use planning, but also from the shelves, through responsible consumption. This is the goal of the Yerba CAÁ project.
The impact of industrial yerba mate cultivation
Yerba mate or ka’a, in the Guarani language, is a native tree species that forms part of the intermediate canopy of the Atlantic Forest in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. It grows wild and was originally harvested from its natural stands.
Andrés Bosso, the head of Aves Argentinas’ NEA project, points out that “in its industrial cultivation, it should also maintain remnants in ecological belts and protective forests. But mostly it does not happen and we ‘make it behave’ like any other crop, with a total transformation power, even if it is a native species, which leads to the reduction of the natural vegetation cover. We lose forest, forever. He also clarifies that, since it is a native species, it offers a scenario of real possibilities of coexistence with the rainforest environment: “An ally for conservation at the farm level, with the potential to have an impact at the landscape scale. And that is what we are exploring”.
Yerba Mate CAÁ, synonymous with standing rainforest
With its Yerba Mate CAÁ project, Aves Argentinas promotes that this product, so typical of Misiones and northern Corrientes, becomes a tool for change and contributes to the protection of one of the most threatened environments on the planet: the Atlantic Forest.
To achieve this, it developed a production and conservation protocol, backed by a Verification Seal, which identifies the commercial product. This is aimed at primary producers and yerba mate companies in the province of Misiones and Corrientes that produce and market organic yerba mate already certified or in the process of being certified.
The protocol, in practice, is simple: producers and processors who want to have the CAÁ Verification Seal on their packages, and the associated active promotion, must guarantee the conservation of an area of forest in relation to their hectares of organic crops. This is in a ratio of a minimum of 2 hectares of forest x 1 hectare of cultivation, in the case of open field crops, or a minimum of 1 hectare of forest x 1 hectare, in the case of yerba undergrowth. These hectares of forest are identified, mapped, surveyed and monitored. On them, some producers create private nature reserves.
“CAÁ is synonymous with standing forest. That is why it is a real alternative to mitigate the impact of habitat loss due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Our objectives are clear: to increase the area of conservation and restoration of the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest, apply better agronomic practices in the production of organic yerba mate, improve the price of organic yerba mate green leaf for the primary producer, add conservation value to the brand of the product and promote conscious consumption of more environmentally friendly products,” says Andrés Bosso.
CAÁ in Action
“For several years now we have been touring the province with this proposal and motivating this essential yerba mate-rainforest reconnection”, Aves Argentinas affirms. Forestry Engineer Juan Pablo Cinto, coordinator of Sustainable Development and Restoration initiatives of the organization, has been generating promotion and exchange presentations. “For the moment, four meetings have been organized with 17 producers who have been introduced to the CAÁ model and seal, and meetings with authorities of two Cooperatives of Organic Yerba Mate Producers, in the Area of Influence of the Curindy Reserve, a tremendous inspiring site in Puerto Rico, Misiones, where there is a CAÁ pilot site”, says the expert.
Aves Argentinas also has its own reserve, El Puente Verde, near Comandante Andresito, which connects the Iguazú National Parks, both in Brazil and Argentina. A pilot Yerba CAÁ site is also being set up there and training sessions are being organized. “In a first meeting, we received some 12 yerba mate producers with whom we shared knowledge about alternatives for integrating production and forest conservation,” explains Juan Pablo Cinto.
The organization has also been promoting, in its 12 hectares of yerba mate in the process of organic certification, the planting of native species to integrate “forest shade” for the crop. As a result, there are already formal links with eight producers, with a total of 140 hectares of organic production and 880 hectares of standing forest.
More forest, more profits, more environmental awareness
The CAÁ Seal has a protocol and a business plan presented to organic producers, cooperatives and yerba mate companies, and several agreements have already been signed.
Gustavo Barutta, from the BSA consulting firm for Aves Argentinas, comments that the intention is to support producers, but at the same time, to infect consumers of organic yerba to go a little further and aim that this product, in addition to being developed within a framework of good agricultural practices, helps to conserve the Misiones rainforest. “We are convinced that they will appreciate it and demand that difference,” he says.
In a way, Yerba CAÁ raises the flag of the “Bird Friendly”, which is in vogue in several countries. Sergio Tarnoski, also from BSA and for Aves Argentinas, affirms: “According to our market research, which includes the exploration of organic certifications and others such as bird friendly products like shade-grown coffee, already installed in countries of potential consumption of yerba mate CAÁ such as the United States, United Kingdom or Germany, the Premium Price of these products is between 338% compared to traditional coffees and 162% compared to simply organic coffee”.
Aves Argentinas is in charge of verifying and accrediting, with the delivery of documentation for the primary producer and companies, the conditions for the incorporation of the CAÁ seal on the packaging of the products. The project opens the door for organic yerba mate processing companies as well as green leaf producers and other actors downstream in the value chain to sign up.
There is currently a potential market of 37 organic producers out of a universe of 12,000 yerba mate producers in the region. The adoption of the CAÁ seal by organic yerba mate brands aims to take advantage of the global trend of a growing demand for healthy foods, which are also produced with the least impact (certified) on the ecosystems of origin.
“Our intention is to get as many producers as possible to join our environmental services accreditation system, because it will be a way to increase the number of conservation hectares and that, together, we can scale this model that, in addition to offering a healthier yerba mate, directly promotes the protection of biodiversity. This is our main business,” says Andrés Bosso.
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