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In northeastern Argentina, yerba mate is a way of life

In northeastern Argentina, yerba mate is a way of life

For millions of inhabitants of the heart of South America, Yerba mate infusion, with its bitter flavor, is a beloved staple of social gatherings and morning routines. But here, in the humid grasslands of the province of Misiones, in the northeast of Argentina, Mate is literally a way of life.

For generations, low-paid day laborers, known as “tareferos”, have worked hard in the forests of Misiones, the world capital of mate. They are paid according to the weight of what is collected, so every morning, the race begins. From dawn to dusk, they cut a seemingly endless harvest of the tough leaves and stuff them into white bags until they almost burst at the seams.

After being dried, packaged, and shipped on trucks, weed is present in virtually every home, office, and school in Argentina, as well as in neighboring Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and beyond.

For tareferos, mate is mainly a commodity that sells for $22 per ton. But day laborers also drink the infusion during their breaks in the fields, and its caffeine helps them maintain energy. The grueling work in northeastern Argentina dates back to the arrival of the Spanish, when indigenous tribes worked on Jesuit plantations in what is now Paraguay.

“Yerba mate gives us harmony and strength,” said Isabelino Méndez, head of an indigenous town in Misiones. “It’s part of our culture.”

The Argentine government has long supported the mate industry with price controls and subsidies, making farmers’ incomes higher than if they were subject to free market competition.

However, this year, libertarian president Javier Milei’s draconian financial measures to rebuild the economy have raised uncertainty among mate producers and tareferos. To slim down the State, Milei seeks to eliminate price controls and other regulations that affect various markets, including that of yerba mate.

Small producers fear that large companies will set prices that they could not match and that they will be expelled from the market.

Julio Petterson, a mate producer from the northern town of Andresito, fears a repeat of what happened in the 1990s, when similar liberal policies unleashed chaos among small producers. “We barely managed to survive,” said. “Thousands of producers went bankrupt.”

Day laborers say they are preparing to suffer mass layoffs.

“If the government deregulates prices, it will hurt the producers who own the land and, ultimately, we will lose our jobs.””says Antonio Pereyra, 40 years old and supervisor of 18 workers. “The economic crisis hits us hard.”

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Source: Gestion

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