Yerba Mate and sustainability: A holistic approach

Yerba Mate and sustainability: A holistic approach to conserving nature and boosting the local economy

Original text: Moisés Bertoni Foundation

The project


30,000 yerba mate seedlings are produced per year in the nursery established at the Mbaracayú Education Center with the support of the Guayaki Yerba Mate Company. This is part of the BMZ project "United for the Sustainable Development of the Mbaracayú Forest Reserve".


The cultivation of yerba mate in forest areas supports the preservation of the forest on the one hand and provides a source of income for smallholder families on the other.  


The producers participating in the project were strategically selected. They are all located in forest corridors that are important for the biological connectivity of individual forest areas. Thus, preserving the native forest on their yerba mate farms can prevent the island effect and the loss of biodiversity in the area of influence of the Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve (RNBM).


This is one of the most important aspects of the work that the Fundación Moisés Bertoni (FMB) and the German non-governmental organization Global Nature Fund (GNF) have done in this area over the last ten years.


However, there are other aspects that are necessary to ensure the adoption of the sustainable production model by the local population. These include scientific research, the creation of educational materials, and the development of strategies to add value to agricultural production. In addition, economic alternatives, such as tourism, are being created and innovation and cooperation networks promoted to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.


This article describes the round trip of the project visit of Katharina Gehrig (Global Nature Fund) to the Mbaracayú Forest Biosphere Reserve in May 2023.


Biosphere reserves are areas designated by UNESCO that are of great importance for sustainable development. They consist of a core protection zone and an area of influence.

Graphic taken from


The project "United for the Sustainable Development of the Mbaracayú Forest Reserve" is implemented in the Biosphere Reserve (La Reserva Natural de Biosféra del Bosque Mbaracayú = RNBM) and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ). This is located in the department of Canindeyú of the Mbaracayú Forest Reserve and covers several districts on more than 322,850 hectares.


The tour with Katharina Gehrig began on Tuesday, May 9, in the middle of the forest reserve, at the Centro Educativo Mbaracayú, the boarding school for indigenous girls. The schoolgirls are involved in the project through trainings, lectures and tasks around responsible production and sustainable tourism with a focus on yerba mate.


Through project activities implemented by the FMB's Education for Sustainable Development Department, students gain important knowledge about the positive impact of the production and marketing process of yerba mate on local communities.

This knowledge is then expanded and shared with other students through lectures and informative activities. The Knowledge Factory also develops innovative materials that contribute to awareness raising and the communication of a specific topic.

Schoolgirls from the Mbaracayú Education Center demonstrate the importance of yerba mate during a puppet show created as part of the project.


Materials the students created to educate about the importance of conservation and the value of yerba mate for sustainable development include a Video-Podcast and illustrated stories. The pupils also performed a puppet show during Katharina Gehrig’s tour.

After the presentation of the puppet show, the students shared their experiences with the GNF representative, the school's teachers and the FMB staff.


Puppet show at the Centro Educativo Familiar Agrícola (CEFA) in the city of Curuguaty, performed by students from the Mbaracayú Education Center as part of the BMZ Yerba Mate Sostenible project.


The tour continued with a visit to the biodiversity observation plots at RNBM. The scientific component, carried out by the FMB research team, consists of monitoring populations of butterflies and other insects as quality indicators.


Devices such as butterfly traps have been installed in the yerba mate cultivation plots, within the RNBM and in the growers' farms. The Foundation's staff is responsible for the regular collection of indices to analyze the contribution of the plants to the enrichment of the forest.

The FMB and GNF team reviews the installation of a trap for butterflies and other insects in a forest plot with yerba mate cultivation in RNBM.


The Rural Development Office of the FMB in the district of Villa Ygatimí was the next stop on the tour. There, the technicians of the Territorial Development Administration explained the process of accompaniment and technical assistance to the 70 producers who benefit from this project.

Office for rural consulting of the Moisés Bertoni Foundation in Villa Ygatimi, Canindeyú Department. Engineer Pedro Sanabria explains the process of monitoring producers, where they provide technical assistance for the cultivation and planting of yerba mate and other plants.


Decades of rural consulting in the area is essential to ensure the success of the project through direct contact with producers.


The result of this long-standing support and the impetus given by this project last year can be seen at harvest time, every year from June to August. For example the producer Silverio Ramírez could harvest 4,000 kilograms of yerba mate on his 2-hectare farm.


The yerba mate processing plant is in the same district and buys the harvest from small producers and processes. They use the leaves and twigs to produce a product that is suitable for human consumption. Therefor, the yerba undergoes drying and grinding and is then stored for two years before being packaged for sale to end consumers.


With a production capacity of 100 tons per year, the factory can ensure a supply for the local market. The Foundation currently markets the product of this factory under the brand name Mbaracayú.

Access to the yerba mate processing plant of the Fundación Moisés Bertoni.


Katharina Gehrig (GNF) and Ing. Luís Insfrán show the yerba mate produced and packaged at the Villa Ygatimi processing plant.


In addition to the fieldwork with producers, the logistics for marketing, processing of harvests, and the educational component that promotes the appropriation of the production model in the community, this project also focuses on sustainable tourism.


Thus, the tourist circuit "Mbaracayú Yerba Mate Guataha" was created, a route that connects five important production sites and shows three different dimensions: the socio-economic dimension from cultivation to processing, the historical dimension and the cultural dimension.


Tourists can take part in the tour through the Mbaracayú Lodge, which is the school hotel of the Mbaracayú Educational Center. The Yerba Mate Guataha tour is expected to contribute to a significant flow of visitors that bring additional income and give tourists an unforgettable experience.


The tour of Katharina Gehrig continued with visits to four stops along the way. One of them was the farm of the producer Silverio Ramírez, who not only exemplifies the "Bajo Monte" cultivation model (special agroforestry cultivation method of yerba mate, in which the seedlings are planted in the shade of other trees), but has also set up an educational trail. There tourists have the chance to learn more about the cultivation of yerba mate and its positive impact on the forests and the local economy. At the end of the educational trail, the focus is on the traditional "Terere Jere", cold brewed mate tea.

The farm of Silverio Ramírez is at the end of the trail and one of the 5 points of the circuit "Mbaracayú Yerba Mate Guataha".


Other stops of Katharina Gehrig included a tour of the processing plant, the Centro Educativo Familiar Agrícola (CEFA). This is an open-air yerba mate museum, where interested people can explore the traditional production model and the Arroyo Morotĩ trail at RNBM. This brings the techniques, developed by Native Americans more than 500 years ago, to life.

Tour guide Paula Santa Cruz explains the ancient technique of yerba mate processing on the Arroyo Morotĩ trail.


The project visit described in this article puts the ambitious nature of this project, which aims to transform the lives of numerous families and their environment in a nutshell. By promoting sustainable and economic practices, it shows how collaboration between organizations and communities can lead to a more prosperous and nature-friendly future for the country.

This project is made possible by the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Global Nature Fund and the Ursula Merz Foundation.