“The Problem is the Low Price”: Social Drivers of Environmental Change in Yerba Mate Cultivation

Authors: Adam S. Dohrenwend*, University of Kansas
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, South America
Keywords: consumption, soil erosion, commodification, Argentina, yerba mate
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Yerba mate, a cornerstone of Argentine culture for centuries, has been thrust on the global commodification stage in recent years. With the vast majority of Argentines consuming the caffeinated infusion, the industry is seeking a new global market through which it can expand profits. In order to accomplish this, a context has been constructed and harnessed to define and market the product— however, segments do not match reality. Using a theoretical framework based on the ideas of geographer Robert Sack, this paper examines the industry’s definition of yerba mate as a product defined by a mutually-beneficial relationship between humans and nature. With those possessing the most influence over pricing (the industrial sector) seeking to push the price of hoja verde down, costs are pushed down the commodity chain to those who can often afford them least— smallholders. To adapt, I argue that these marginalized smallholders often resort to socially and ecologically troubling practices in hopes of just barely eking out a living. By utilizing an emerging and rather unconventional commodity as a case study, the evolving geographies of consumption in Argentina’s Atlantic Rainforest region will be examined through a political-ecological lens.

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