See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Argentina: The Price of the Popular Yerba Mate Goes Up

Starting on April 1, 2012, the price of yerba mate increased from 50 to 100%. An increase which directly hurts Argentinians’ wallets. On Twitter, Sebas (@pepinorios) commented:

Hasta la tradición nos están haciendo difícil acceder. #Yerba

Now they're even making it difficult for us to stick to tradition. #Yerba

Mate Culture

But why is yerba mate so important for Argentinians? The page Argentinian Mate [es] explains:

La Yerba mate es un árbol que crece en las cuencas de los ríos Paraná, Uruguay y Paraguay, en una región que abarca la zona limítrofe entre los países de Argentina, Brasil y Paraguay(triple frontera). Los indígenas de esa zona, los Guaraníes, usaron este vegetal por sus propiedades alimenticias y curativas.

Hoy el uso de la Yerba mate difiere de la antigua manera de consumirla de los Guaraníes, quienes maceraban sus hojas por días y luego bebían esa preparación como un curativo para diversas enfermedades (reumáticas, intestinales, etc.) y como un elíxir reconfortante que les brindaba fuerza y energía.

Yerba mate is a tree that grows in the Paraná, Uruguay and Paraguay river basins; the region where Argentina's, Brazil's, and Paraguay's three borders meet. The indigenous people of that area, the Guarani, used this plant for its nutrition and healing effects.

Yerba mate's use today is different from the old Guarani method of consuming it. They would marinate the leaves for days and then drink the liquid as medicine to cure a variety of diseases (rheumatic, intestinal, etc.) and as a comforting elixir that would provide them with strength and energy.

The page continues to explain how it is consumed:

el mate se toma de diferentes maneras(gustos), de acuerdo a las tradiciones y gustos en las diferentes regiones del país agregándole a la yerba, azúcar negro, cascarillas de naranja o hierbas que varían de región en región como por ej:manzanilla, café, menta, etc.

Mate is drank in a variety of ways, according to the traditions and tastes of different areas of the country, by adding to the drink either brown sugar, orange peels or herbs that vary from region to region. For example: chamomile, coffee, mint, etc.

Argentinian Mate, photo by Laura Schneider

Mate is a deep-rooted tradition in Argentina that begins in adolescence and continues on through adulthood. The Informative Blog [es] explains:

Se trata de una infusión que parte de su encanto radica en el pequeño ritual que se crea en torno a él. Para quienes no lo sepan la palabra mate tiene su origen en el vocablo quechua mathi que significa vaso o recipiente hecho de calabaza para beber. Bueno, pues eso es el mate. Se coloca yerba mate en su interior y una bombilla, que es una especie de pajilla con un filtro en el extremo inferior. El acto de rellenar con agua caliente (nunca hirviendo) se denomina cebar.

It's all about an infusion that finds part of its charm in the small ritual which surrounds it. For those who do not know, the word mate originated from the Quechua term mathi, which means a cup or container from which to drink and made out of a gourd. And that is the mate. Yerba mate and a bombilla, which is a type of straw with a filter on the lower end, are placed into it. The act of refilling it with hot water (never boiling) is called steeping.

Reactions to the Price Increase

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fish [es], announced through a press release [es], the new prices that are being set for the produce, that is to say for the producer:

El ministro de Agricultura, Ganadería y Pesca de la Nación, Norberto Yauhar, firmó el precio para la yerba verde en $1,70 y de $6,90 para la canchada, que entrarán en vigencia a partir del 1 de abril. “Fijamos un laudo que comprende el pedido de todos los eslabones de la cadena. Defendiendo no sólo a productores, sino también a los consumidores”

The nation's minister of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fish, Norberto Yauhar, set the price for green yerba at $1.70 and $6.90 for the canchada. The prices will go into effect starting April 1. “We have made a decision that covers all the bases. We're defending not only producers, but consumers as well.”

The prices before the increase were fixed at $0.90 per kilo of green yerba and $3.30 for the canchada placed out to dry. Thus the increase is around 88%.

But if one takes into account the production cycle of yerba mate, the final product increases would begin starting June of 2012. However, storekeepers applied the increase on April 1 for the final product already on the shelves.

On April 3 the hashtag #yerba [es] began to trend locally. Many used it to express their outrage, anger and even solutions to the increase, such as Analía Roca ‏(@AnaliaRoca) [es]:

“Hágalo Ud. Mismo” Manual para cultivar #yerba mate en su casa. Incluye secadora de hojas. Sin subsidio. PSP $5.500.- #librospermitidos

“Do it yourself” Manual to grow #yerba mate in your home. Includes leaf dryer. Unsubsidized. Only $5,500.- #permittedbooks

Pablo Sanchez (@decadente83) [es] proposes another solution:

Ya vuelvo, voy a poner un poco de #yerba usada arriba del techo para volver a usarla cuando se seque.

Be right back, I'm going to put a bit of already used #yerba up on the roof to use again when it dries.

Caro Hernandez (@CaroHernandezC) [es] shares a photo and comments:

Vamos disminuyendo el consumo de #yerba en esta casa! Con 4 mates por mañana, nos fundimos en dias! http://yfrog.com/nw3shrtj

We are starting to use less #yerba in our house! With 4 mates each morning, we'll be broke in a few days! http://yfrog.com/nw3shrtj

Controversy Caused by the Secretary of Trade

However, the controversy surrounding yerba mate arose before the price increase, when yerba mate producers from the Misiones province [es] requested from the Secretary of Domestic Trade Guillermo Moreno a renegotiation of the yerba price. According to the webpage AIM Digital [es], the following was the Secretary's response:

“Estoy cansado de los polacos pelotudos del interior que vienen a Buenos Aires a hacer reclamos. El precio (de la yerba) lo defino yo y al que no le gusta que se ponga en cuatro”

“I am tired of these dumb*** Poles from the provinces that come to Buenos Aires to file complaints. I decide what the price (of yerba) is and screw anyone that doesn't like it”

The Polish community in Argentina did not take long to react. Gustavo Sterczek, a historian of polish descent and member of the Polish Association of Argentina, sent a letter, which several of the country's media groups have published, that was in reaction to the Domestic Trade Secretary's words.The webpage of the station Misiones Cuatro [es] published it:

Sus declaraciones ofenden no sólo a ellos en particular, sino a todos los que llevamos orgullosamente su origen. Mi abuelo fue uno de esos inmigrantes que arribó a este gran país, como tantos otros, era una persona humilde, pero culta y con valores. Se ofreció de voluntario en la segunda guerra mundial para poder pelear por su amada patria invadida por los nazis. No se si usted escucha música, pero le recomiendo a un tal Chopin, considerado uno de los más grandes compositores de la historia, era polaco, pero no pelotudo.

Your statements not only offend them in particular, but also all of us who are proud of our heritage. My grandfather was one of those immigrants that came to this great country. He, like many others, was a humble man, but he was educated and had values. He volunteered in World War II to fight for his beloved homeland that was invaded by the Nazis. I do not know if you listen to music, but I recommend you listen to a Mr. Chopin. He is considered one of the greatest composers in history. He was polish, but not a dumb***.

The Polish ambassador to Argentina, Jacek Bazanski, also sent a letter to the Secretary of Domestic Trade, expressing the community's pain. The newspaper La Razon[es] writes:

El embajador polaco presentó en la mesa de entradas de la Secretaría que conduce Moreno la carta en la que se muestra “profundamente dolido por las palabras expresadas para con el pueblo polaco durante una reunión con industriales yerbateros y aún más sorprendido por tratarse de la expresión verbal de un funcionario público”.

“The polish ambassador delivered a letter to the inbox of the Secretary post occupied by Moreno. In the letter the ambassador describes how he was “deeply hurt by the words expressed toward the polish people during a meeting with industrial yerba producers, and even more surprised that they were pronounced by a government official.”

The Chamber of Deputies released a statement, rejecting [es] Moreno's words. While users on Facebook the group “Solidarity with the polish yerba farmers” [es] also showed their outrage.

Between the controversy caused by Moreno's declarations and the price increase, today mate tastes even more bitter to Argentinians. Keky Criante Gómez (@‏KekyCG) [es] concludes:

A Moreno le dicen “Agua hervida” [el agua para el mate no debe hervir, ya que el calor quema la yerba] porque nos cagó el mate #yerba

They're calling Moreno “Boiled water” [water for mate shouldn't be boiled because the heat burns the leaf] because he ruined our mate #yerba

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site