Yerba mate is a plant native to South America that has properties similar to caffeinated plants. People can use the leaves in a similar manner to tea leaves which steep in hot water to diffuse the taste and desired properties of the plant. In addition to the physical effects of mate, the plant has cultural significance in South American folklore. People originally discovered it in modern-day Paraguay and Southern Brazil where the natives dubbed it an herb “from the gods.” The natives imbibed it to boost physical and mental stamina, and they used it for medicinal purposes and in religious ceremonies to worship the gods. Today, Argentinians, Paraguayans and Brazilians drink it in a similar fashion to how Americans drink coffee. A couple of people can share a bowl of mate and have a chat or college students can drink it while studying for their exams. Guayaki’s ethical business produces yerba mate while giving back to its community.
Guayaki’s Business Model
Guayaki is one of the few companies that farms and sells yerba mate in the North American market. The company has established itself and its business model with respect to the native traditions people associate with mate, as well as through its efforts to promote sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices, indigenous culture resilience and ethical management and payment of its employees. Guayaki’s ethical business model focuses first and foremost on the well-being of its workers in conjunction with the environment. By 2020, Guayaki plans to restore 200,000 acres of rainforest and create 1,000 living wage jobs.
To start, Guayaki grows its mate plants in their natural state, in the shade of the dense jungle. The workers then come and harvest only the leaves and young stems by hand to make sure the plant continues to grow. They do this because modern agricultural practices may cause the original taste to deteriorate. Moreover, growing the mate in this way also guarantees that the operations put off the least amount of emissions possible.
In addition to simply farming sustainably, Guayaki’s ethical business practices not only meet the standards of Fair for Life and Non-GMO certifications, but they also help promote the biodiversity of the rainforest and create a carbon sink for emissions. People farm the mate through multi strata agroforestry, which is the act of combining crops with the forest canopy and creating a carbon skin that draws carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the leaves and soil. The company conducts all packaging actions and transportation methods with 100 percent renewable energy and does all packaging with recyclable and/or compostable resources. Through these efforts, Guayaki has created a net-zero carbon emissions business.
A Company for the Community
Guayaki’s ethical business model proves to be a frontrunner with regard to the treatment of employees. The company sources all of its mate from indigenous communities, mainly in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. In contrast to the business model of many large corporations that buy the land from local farmers outright, Guayaki pays its farmers two to three times the amount that a large company would pay to buy the land in order to ensure they do not suffer exploitation in the long run while still benefiting in the short term. As of 2017, Guayaki created almost 900 jobs among local indigenous communities that pay a comfortable living wage to the producers.
Guayaki not only treats its workers well, but it also gives back to the communities where it operates. The company donates funds to improve infrastructure and build/upkeep schools. People can make donations through the Guayaki Foundation, which also encourages local communities to plant indigenous hardwood trees. It also teaches the methods of agroecology to school children in order to give them an education that will help them with their careers later in life and make their lives much more enjoyable and livable.
Through all of Guayaki’s ethical business practices, the company is helping protect the environment while also bringing neglected populations out of poverty and into not only a survivable life but a livable and enjoyable one. Through their benefits and teaching methods, Guayaki is making sure that the people will always have the means to support themselves in an ethical, comfortable way for years to come.
– Graham Gordon