Guayakí Yerba Mate - A Powerful Rainforest Experience
The conservation of yerba mate’s natural habitat is important to biodiversity conservation; and specifically bird conservation. Only a century ago, most of the Atlantic Forest was intact. Today, less than 5% of this forest is left (see map below). The Atlantic Forest of North Eastern Paraguay, North Eastern Argentina and Southern Eastern Brazil, is one of the world’s top 5 biodiversity hotspots (Myers et al. 2000) and one of South America’s highest priority sites for bird conservation (Stotz et al. 1996; Stattersfield et al. 1998). Yerba mate is endemic to the Atlantic Forest. There are several ecoregions within the Atlantic Forest with varying elevations, flora and fauna. In the Southern province of Santa Catarina, Brazil, for example, mate grows natively and abundantly below a higher elevation “araucaria” tree species which is also endangered and under protection in Brazil.
Conservation and native mate production go hand in hand. While it may be hard to believe, most yerba mate today is cultivated in sun plantations, on land that was once part of the Atlantic Forest. Regional economic pressure and history took its course. Today, the survival of many endangered bird species is dependent upon the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest– For complete study, click here. One of the Atlantic forest region’s most widespread crops is the native yerba mate. Although it is almost always produced as a monoculture in full sun, yerba mate can be grown in shade under native trees (Eibl et al. 2000). For certified organic, shade-grown yerba, farmers in Paraguay receive two times the price of traditional, sun-grown yerba mate, making shade-grown mate an economically viable option despite slightly lower yields.
Management considerations: (Excerpt from study)
“Thus, shade-grown yerba mate could be planted in buffer zones or biosphere reserves as a compromise between bird conservation and agriculture. Although the shade-grown yerba plantation did not support forest understory or midstory birds, it contained all of the canopy and tree trunk species from the nearby forest, including five globally threatened and near-threatened species. The results suggest that shade-grown yerba mate may be an appropriate land-use for buffer zones around reserves in the Atlantic Forest.”