Yerba Mate Cultural Landscape

Date of Submission: 06/04/2022
Criteria: (iii)(v)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Paraguay to UNESCO
Coordinates: S25 23 48 W54 38 18
Ref.: 6612


The Yerba Mate Cultural Landscape (PCYM) is a landscape that through its four zones rescues the productive systems and cultural processes associated with the production of yerba mate. Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is a product of cross-cutting consumption in the culture and economy of Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. It is also consumed in the Latin American region and has recently been exported to European and Asian countries.

Its history is deeply rooted in the Paraguayan people since its origins, starting its use in the native communities, who consumed it in the form of an infusion, until the arrival of European settlers. In the early days of Jesuit evangelization, its use was forbidden. a measure that was later reversed, and the extraction and sale of yerba mate became one of the main socio-economic activities of the colony. However, yerba mate is also linked to cruel forms of exploitation experienced by the native and Paraguayan peoples from colonial times until the mid-twentieth century.

The encomienda or institutionalized slavery used indigenous and creole labour for the extraction of yerba mate from the extensive forests of Paraguay; due to its high energy value and the expansion of its consumption in La Plata Region it was considered Paraguay's “green gold“.

After the Paraguayan independence, in the middle of the independence process in Latin America, it continued to be the main source of economic income together with cattle raising and other agricultural products. However, its extraction and processing methods maintained strong traces of the colony with the difference of concentration and commercialization in the hands of the Paraguayan State during this period (1811 – 1870).

After the War of the Triple Alliance, with more than 70% of the population decimated, Paraguay proceeded to the almost total sale of the yerba mate plantations, which were State lands, to cover the costs and debts of the war. Thus, large estates were formed, which were acquired by foreign companies to exploit Paraguay's green gold.

Since 1886, the exploitation and production of yerba mate were articulated from the East of the country, specifically in the territories that today make up the districts of Itakyry and Tacurú Pucú, today's Hernandarias; by a company of Anglo-Argentine capital called LIPSA (La Industrial Paraguaya S.A.), which acquired 2,647,727 hectares, 17% of the total land in the eastern region of Paraguay.

An administrative and logistic centre was managed from there, where the labour force of the so-called mensúes or "debt slaves" was employed to extract and process the yerba mate from the forest under rudimentary conditions until it was transported and taken out of the Paraná River.

Today, the aforementioned territories have no longer large-scale exploitation of Yerba Mate, as this industry has been replaced (since the middle of the 20th century) by mechanized agriculture for the production of grains for export. However, the area of yerba mate production has expanded in what is now known as the yerba mate belt, which occupies about 50% of the Eastern Region of the country. It is currently possible to differentiate models of landscapes related to the history, culture and production of Yerba Mate, with different models and scales of production. All of them keep alive the legacy of the Guarani culture associated with Yerba Mate. The areas corresponding to the Cultural Landscape of Yerba Mate (PCYM) were chosen for the minimum geographical delimitation that is the municipality (which constitutes the buffer zone); within it, and at a later stage, a final definition of the boundaries will be made.

  • Historical zone: it has milestones in the history of yerba mate production in different periods of history, sites where historical elements and cultural manifestations of both traditional populations and indigenous communities are found.
  • Artisanal production zone: characterized by the presence of Yerba Mate in native forest and forest enrichment practices, sites where Yerba Mate is found in its natural state and related to artisanal production chains, and a focus on local trade.
  • Production zone associated with native forest: production areas associated with cultivation or harvesting of Yerba Mate in the native forest, collection of products from indigenous and peasant communities, industrial processing of raw material, and regional trade.
  • Industrial production zone: intensive production models, generally associated with open-air Yerba Mate plantations, industrial production, and focus on national and international markets.

Yerba Mate or Ilex paraguariensis, is an endemic species of the Interior Atlantic Forest, one of the ecosystems in the greatest danger of disappearing, globally, due to the land-use change. Because of its ecological, genetic, cultural, and nutritional value, Yerba Mate is formally included as a conservation element in some of the Management Plans of the protected areas of the ecoregion of the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest (BAAPA) in Paraguay.

In protected areas of this ecoregion there are remnants of the natural communities of the BAAPA where still representative samples of the vegetation of the area can be found, as well as, yerba mate as an element of the biodiversity that is conserved.

Currently, the cultivation of Yerba Mate is developed from the native forest, small family or community farms, and industrial plantations inside or outside the forest, all these forms of production make up the proposed Yerba Mate Cultural Landscape.

In each municipality, for sure, the architecture and gastronomy are related to the PCYM, representing its essence. The traditional single-family houses, consisting of compact houses built of wood with ceramic tile roofs, painted in bright colours, represent the vernacular architecture, and unfortunately lesser built nowadays because the wooden architecture is related to the "architecture of poverty", preferring the owners to change or renovate them by building houses of ceramic brick masonry.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

From its scientific name, "Ilex paraguariensis", yerba mate refers to Paraguay and it is believed that the custom of consuming it in infusions is a direct inheritance of the Guarani population settled in the region. In past times there were extensive areas of natural yerba mate plants, which the natives used as an infusion in pre-Columbian times, and after the conquest and colonization, the Jesuits generalized its consumption in the reductions, thus linking traditions and customs of our land. The Jesuits also succeeded in cultivating the yerba mate, a fact not repeated by their secular competitors in Paraguay, where the pre-Columbian process of extracting the leaves directly from wild yerbales was used. At first, the Jesuits cultivated yerba mate for local consumption and to pay the annual tribute required by the Spanish crown, but later, the profits of the Jesuit yerba mate were recognized by all, even tripling its total exports. Finally, the Jesuits faced much opposition, not only locally, but in 1767, they were expelled from Spain and the Spanish territories in other regions of the world. At that time of the 18th century, as well as in the later years of the colony, the collection and preparation of yerba mate for the market was a very difficult and physically exhausting task. The Spanish crown determined the division of lands through the encomiendas, and a large part of the yerba mate fields was owned by the encomenderos. In this way, the Guaranís were forced to work in agriculture, cattle raising, and also in domestic tasks. Therefore, is certainly known that yerba mate was the key element in the Guarani diet, whose tribe spread over the vast territory bathed mainly by the Paraná, Paraguay, and Uruguay rivers. Paraguayan yerba mate or tea was widely used by the Guarani for their religious rites, and soon had a vast acceptance and diffusion among Spaniards, Creoles and mestizos, regardless of their social position. During the colonial period, ka'a (Guarani term meaning "herb"), a medicinal infusion of the Guarani people, emerged from the Paraguayan forest and suddenly gained such prestige that it became an indispensable drink and food for the inhabitants of the Rio de la Plata. According to this statement, it can be said that yerba mate, a wild herb that grew within the current Paraguayan territory, became known over time.

Until the end of the colonial period, it was the most usual and common item in all commercial transactions, even in the regional market.

The territories awarded to the exploitation of yerba mate, today expropriated and declared districts, bring with them a patrimonial value of unquestionable human and universal tenor that is justified in the human right of land access and the safeguard of the memory of the mensúes descendants, who shaped the identity of the two peoples (Paraguayans and indigenous-native people) and current cities in the extensive yerba mate route in the eastern region of Paraguay.

The PCYM is part of territories that depended on yerba mate for generations; Paraguayans and indigenous people left in their oral, written, and traditional narratives myths, legends and stories based on the fieldwork, food, housing, and the cruel persecutions for debts of the workers in these places.

The building structures of the administrative headquarters of the LIPSA company were gradually demolished, but the tangible heritage remained in the houses of foremen and workers, in the tools and materials used by the workers, existing in museums and interpretation centres, Their memory is rescued every year in the "Terere Festival", where they pay homage to the city of Itakyry, as the capital of the country's yerba mate culture, and safeguard the historical memory with the event where artistic groups from all over the world participate in February of each year.

The museum "Tacuru Pucu" gathers the most important sets, pieces, and collections that date the work of the Hernandarias people during the settlement of La Industrial Paraguaya S.A. until mid-1974. The PCYM contains an important set of socioeconomic and geographic characteristics that are linked to the social and cultural history of the triple border people, which were also scenarios of exploitation of other yerbateras corporations as in the case of Brazil and Argentina.

Throughout the history of the region, the production of Yerba Mate is part of the economy, culture, and traditions of the population. Today, Yerba Mate is an essential part of the Paraguayan diet, regardless of their social class and location in the territory. The consumption of mate and terere, is a common element of the inhabitants of the region and its cultural value is evidenced in music, stories, tales, poetry, myths and legends. Declaring the cultural landscape of yerba mate as a world cultural heritage would mean justice to the historical memory of those people who were subjected to the curse of the extractivism of natural resources in Latin America for several decades; similar to the history of the seringueiros of Brazil or the Colombian coffee growers whose identity is deeply rooted in the fruits of their land.

Yerba Mate production generates income in both the local and international markets, in addition to being a central product for Paraguayan society and culture. Today, the volume of exports has been increasing and consequently more markets have been opened abroad so that the industry has been expanding more and more. The opening of the Persian Gulf for exports is a fact. In addition, Taiwan, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Japan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and Bolivia are the new international markets for Paraguayan products.

Criterion (iii): The PCYM provides a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition that is still alive. It is an outstanding example of how a natural resource is integrated throughout history into the culture and life of the local population. The tradition of yerba mate production and consumption, from pre-Hispanic times to the present day, becomes an essential element of the cultural identity of Paraguay and other countries in the region, giving them a sense of belonging.

Criterion (v): It is an eminent example of traditional forms of land use, representative of a culture and the interaction between man and his natural environment. Through the four PCYM zones, production and use patterns that shape the landscape are protected, where the collective effort of several generations of farming families generated innovative natural resource management practices in extraordinarily challenging geographic conditions.

The strong community focus on the production of Yerba Mate in all aspects of life produced a cultural identity and a productive process, including the artisanal production of peasant and indigenous communities, through local businesses and industrial production companies.

Criterion (vi): The yerba mate tradition is one of the most representative symbols of Paraguay's national culture, and the Region, materialized in countless cultural manifestations (songs, dances, poetry, stories, myths, and legends) which highlight Paraguayan's relationship with yerba mate and its most traditional uses such as mate and terere, whereby the country has gained worldwide recognition. The literary narrative of the greatest national literary exponent, winner of the 1989 Cervantes Prize, Augusto Roa Bastos, describes in his novel "Hijo de Hombre" (Son of Man) the sacrificed life of the mensúes in the yerba mate fields of Tacuru Pucu.

In the PCYM this yerba mate culture has given rise to rich tangible and intangible manifestations in the territory, with a unique legacy, seeking to protect the various types of Yerba Mate production: from artisanal production with the typical barbacua and the extraction of natural yerba mate of protected forests, to industrial production with Yerba Mate crops in open air. The PCYM includes a series of museums, which preserve the rich cultural history linked to Yerba Mate, tourist attractions and interpretation centres that aim to socialize the rich legacy and craft production centres, where native peoples keep alive the relationship between Yerba Mate and their spirituality.

The "Traditional practices and knowledge of tereré in the pohã ñana culture" are widespread throughout the territory of Paraguay, an ancestral Guaraní drink in Paraguay, has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020. The depositaries of this element of intangible cultural heritage are very numerous and diverse. Tereré is traditionally prepared in a pitcher or a thermos, mixing cold water with pohã ñana, a medicinal herb previously crushed in a mortar. It is served in a container in which mate has been placed and absorbed with a cane or metal bombilla. The preparation of the tereré is carried out according to an intimate ritual governed by a series of pre-established codes. The health benefits of pohã ñana are known thanks to the popular wisdom that has been transmitted from generation to generation.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


Each of the selected components or areas contains within it the attributes that, as a whole, contribute to the outstanding universal value of the entire PCYM and are in an acceptable state of conservation.

The four areas that make up the serial property are located in what is known as the Yerba Mate Belt, a region characterized by social and cultural elements that shape the landscape and yerba mate production. Although the Yerba Mate production territory is very broad and affects a large part of the country, the component areas of the PCYM property provide specific and localized examples of production models, landscape and cultural features that characterize yerba mate production in its different models and scales.

The PCYM is made up of four areas that allow us to interpret the totality of a landscape of living culture and constant adaptation between the communities and their environment, passing through historical territories, production models closely linked to the conservation of native forests and artisan production, followed by production linked to peasant families and local commerce, all productive models that are part of the relationship between Yerba Mate and the Paraguayan identity and that narrates the path that yerba mate, native tree of the native forest, travels to the guampa for the consumption of mate or tereré; an essential element of the national and regional identity. In each area, the complete process of yerba mate production is developed, from the plant to the final consumer.

The most illustrative area(s) have been chosen to represent in each zone the themes that define each of them:

In the Historic Zone, production is characterized by small family industries that have a local focus and closely linked to the traditions and cultural processes of production. There are also museums where the history of yerba mate cultivation is told, and remnant sectors of historical sites related to the large-scale extraction of yerba mate:

- Center House of Culture in the municipality of Itakyry.

- Paseo de la Yerba Mate, sculptures and murals in the municipality of Itakyry. This city was the first centre of corporate production of Yerba Mate after the post war of the Triple Alliance (1864 - 1870), logistic capital of the national and world yerba mate production.

- Remnants of La Industrial Paraguaya S.A. factory (LIPSA).

- Mensú Museum in the municipality of Ciudad del Este.

- Museum of Itaipú in the municipality of Hernandarias, the most important port of unloading of Yerba Mate.

- Tacuru Pucu Historical Museum in the municipality of Hernandarias.

The artisanal production zone is characterized by the presence of yerba mate natural fields related to artisanal and semi-artisanal production, directly related to local communities.  In this area, in general, the production and harvesting occupies a large number of family laborers who transport the green leaf to the processing plant. The production process maintains the traditional system of zapecado, use of barbacua and placing in warehouses. According to the National Yerba Mate Plan (2015, p. 11), "production is 92% in the hands of family farming which represents an important source of income for families";

In the Zone of production associated with the native forest, the presence of native yerbales related to the production with indigenous and peasant communities exists.  In general, Yerba Mate production is carried out by direct harvesting of the native forest or by cultivating undergrowth, which contributes to the conservation of the forest structure. This type of production contributes to the maintenance of genetic diversity of the species and constitutes an important germplasm source for the future. In this area, due to the artisanal or semi-industrial process, production is aimed at a local market.

In the Industrial Production Zone, production is characterized by the industrialization of the process, where large industries concentrate the cultivation of the plant, generally in open air, harvesting, processing, placing and packaging. Production is massive and focused on the national market. In addition to the yerba mate industry in the area, tourist attractions associated with the yerba mate culture are being developed:

- Fábrica Yerba Mate Pajarito, which has the Raatz Museum, former home of the founders, which offers a tour of the industry and the nursery.

- Fábrica Yerba Mate Selecta, which has the first Mate Bar in the country. Its tours show visitors the whole process of production of yerba mate, and also the nature reserve.

- The museums of the colonies, such as the Museum of the Immigrants in the municipality of Bella Vista, has articles and furniture of the first 100 families that came to Paraguay; the Ernesto Fischer Museum, with articles referring to the beginnings of the United Colonies and of the culture in general; the Edwing Krug Museum that has collection articles of the Chaco War and beginnings of the United Colonies.


The material testimonies of the human settlements defined as towns that make up municipalities, are the buildings or single-family dwellings, separate or connected, manifestation of the vernacular wooden architecture, which by their homogeneity and their integration to the landscape are a prominent and universal historical value; added to the existing historical buildings and museums that rescue the historical production of yerba mate, and the industrial facilities of the Industrial Production Zone.

The traditional land use has persisted over time, giving a cultural value to the PCYM. Traditional Yerba Mate production is preserved according to the system of manual harvesting with scissors, shears and saws, and also directly by hand in most of the region (in some industrial establishments in a mechanized way with "electric scissors"); and the traditional drying system or "barbacuá system" (traditional drying, whose uses date back to the Jesuit period), used by small yerba mate producers, who even continue to supply the large industrial complexes. Technological progress led us to use large mills using the belt system and drying chambers with temperature regulator, leading to a considerable volume increase of yerba mate production, while shortening deposit times, promoting the arrival of the final product to consumers in one year, unlike the barbacuá that needs two years.

The scientific study of the yerba mate plant originating in the territory of Paraguay, where the native genetic variety still exists, gives the PCYM its scientific value. There are also more and more tasting works developed by universities, laboratories of yerba mate mills and gastronomy schools.

The transmission of traditional practices linked to the consumption of yerba mate in the form of infusion has been taking place in Paraguayan families since at least the 16th century. Traditional knowledge about the healing virtues and the proper use of pohã ñana (medicinal herbs) mixed with tereré (cold drink) and mate (hot drink) is also transmitted spontaneously within the family environment. This cultural practice fosters social cohesion because the spatial and temporal context of tereré and mate consumption encourages inclusion, friendship, dialogue, respect and solidarity. It also increases the esteem of new generations for the rich Guaraní legacy in the fields of culture and botany.

Comparison with other similar properties

Coffee Cultural Landscape in Colombia: represents a similar production model to the one proposed due to the close relationship between the production and industrialization of a natural resource and the local culture; manifested in constructions, clothing, uses and customs of the coffee-growing population. Unlike coffee, the use of Yerba Mate in Paraguay and in the region dates back to before the Spanish colonization and its use is linked to the spirituality of the native peoples that inhabit part of the PCYM.

Agave landscape and the old industrial facilities in Mexico: the landscape was selected because it is a bastion of one of the cultural processes that have developed since pre-Hispanic times and miscegenation, by uniting the ancient Mexican forms of fermentation with the distillation techniques that came from the Old Continent. The PCYM is similar, by using a natural resource from pre-Columbian times to the present, helping to shape the landscape and forming part of the cultural identity of Paraguay and the region.

In Cuba, the fertile Viñales Valley is dotted with spectacular rocky outcrops. Its inhabitants continue to use traditional agricultural techniques, particularly for tobacco production. The richness of its cultural landscape is enhanced by the traditional architecture of its farms and villages, where the characteristics of a peculiarly multi-ethnic rich society still persist, illustrating the cultural development of the Caribbean islands in general and Cuba in particular. It is considered the most spectacular landscape in Cuba.

Also in Cuba there are the French coffee plantations ruins of the southeast. The vestiges of the coffee plantations of the XIX century, located at the foot of Sierra Maestra, built at the beginning of the XIX century and until the beginning of the XX century, constitute an exceptional testimony of the precursor agricultural techniques in difficult terrains. These vestiges shed light on aspects of the economic, social and technological history of the Caribbean and Latin America.