English playwright Arthur W. Pinero once wrote, “Where there’s tea, there’s hope.” And that’s certainly true when it comes to the world’s tropical rainforests. Your simple choice of tea can make a positive impact on tropical rainforests around the globe. Our consumer choices are more powerful than we know.
Tea is big business. After water, it’s the most widely consumed beverage in the world. The Rainforest Alliance estimates that tea covers about 6 million acres of the world’s land surface. Most tea—black, green, oolong and white—come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which grows only in tropical and subtropical areas. Hence, top tea-producing countries such as China, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia and Malawi have lost vast amounts of tropical forest cover due to the establishment of tea plantations or estates. In addition to forest loss, problems with soil erosion, the use of chemical fertilizers and the need for water and firewood to fuel tea dryers are all environmental concerns. Tea estates are additionally challenged with a number of social issues having to do with workers’ rights, abuses, health care, housing and wages.
Although problematic, tea is a critical part of the economy in these countries. In 2007, the Rainforest Alliance began certifying commercial tea plantations to minimize the negative aspects of tea cultivation in tropical areas. Today, Rainforest Alliance Certified™ teas are widely available and a good choice for the rainforest and its people.
Even better, organic, fair-trade and sustainably extracted teas that grow in the shade of the forest canopy can offer a unique opportunity to preserve rainforests. Sustainably extracted non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as tea (as well as herbs, nuts, natural latex, etc.) hold genuine promise for local people and farmers in tropical areas to generate income without having to engage in more destructive activities like subsistence farming, cattle ranching, or clearing and selling wood to timber companies. Empowering locals to earn money sustainably is the name of the game. In fact, a 1989 Peruvian Amazon study published in Nature showed that logging one hectare of rainforest generates a present-day net yield of $1,000, whereas the net yield for sustainably harvested fruit and latex (rubber) is more than $6,000.
But markets must exist for NTFPs in order to make preservation efforts successful—and that’s where you come in. Every time you buy a tea product that’s sustainably extracted from intact rainforest, you build demand—and ultimately fuel the solution. As local people begin to see that they can make more money in the long run producing sustainable products, they will have an economic incentive to keep the rainforest healthy and intact. It’s already happening. Today there are teas available that you can purchase and enjoy that actually help to preserve the rainforest!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Enjoy a cup of either Rainforest Alliance Certified or sustainably harvested tropical tea from the forest knowing that with every sip, you are helping to preserve the world’s rainforests.
To get started, keep it simple and easy. Maybe once a week, take a refreshing break from the usual cup of joe and go for a cup of sustainably harvested tea. Or enjoy a relaxing cup on the weekends.
If you are a fan of black or green tea, choose a brand that is Rainforest Alliance Certified. Lipton Rainforest Alliance Certified tea is widely available in the United States. And PG is available throughout Britain and other European countries. A smaller brand, the Republic of Tea makes Three Gardens Breakfast—Mountain Morning Black Tea, a great Rainforest Alliance Certified choice. Other Rainforest Alliance Certified brands can be found at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Whole Foods and online at Taooftea.com. Just look for the Rainforest Alliance logo on the package!
If you want to help support teas that are extracted from intact rainforest and are open to exploring new flavors, try a shade-grown, fair-trade organic tea.
Guayakí Yerba Mate
Yerba mate, or simply “mate,” is the most popular tea in South America. Ilex paraguariensis is grown in tropical and subtropical climates in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Paraguay. While commercially grown yerba mate has contributed to deforestation in all of these countries, Guayakí’s yerba mate is the exception. In fact, buying this mate helps to preserve rainforest and provides fair-trade working conditions and revenue to local rainforest communities. Seventy-five percent of the company’s mate comes from small cooperatives in the Paraná region of the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, with the remaining amounts coming from Paraguay and Argentina. The Atlantic Forest is one of the most threatened and biodiverse tropical rainforests in the world—95 percent of it has been deforested. Because the mate is native to the area and is shade-grown naturally, the sustainable co-ops serve as “preserves” amid the highly threatened secondary forest—which makes them vastly different from a monoculture plantation. Guayakí invests in reforestation too, planting fruit trees and native hardwoods. Co-founder David Karr tells us that approximately 50,000 trees are planted a year. Roughly 27,000 acres are currently preserved by Guayakí’s yerba mate co-op farms. You can even go to the Guayakí website (www.guayaki.com/impact) and enter the quantity of its yerba mate you consume, and it will tell you exactly how much tropical rainforest your consumption is preserving!
On a healthy note, yerba mate contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, a high level of antioxidants, fatty acids and naturally occurring caffeine. Drinkers say that it induces mental clarity, sustains energy levels, reduces fatigue, aids in weight control and elimination, and fights bad breath. Drinking Guayakí yerba mate is a winning action. It’s good for your health and good for the rainforest and its local communities, and it provides a pretty cool cultural experience!
Teeccino Maya Herbal Coffee
We also heartily recommend Teeccino Maya Herbal Coffee, which has created new trade in Guatemala by using ingredients wild-harvested from the rainforest.
The herbal coffee is made with a Mayan food called ramón nuts. The nuts are the seed of the fruit of the Brosimum alicastrum tree—a member of the fig family—and are very nutritious with high amounts of potassium. Interestingly, they are fat and gluten free and contain a complete protein that has high amounts of a particular “feel-good” amino acid that the body converts to serotonin. The nuts are harvested by women and children in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses 5 million hectares in northeastern Guatemala, southeastern Mexico and western Belize. The nuts are gathered after they fall 120 feet from the ramón tree. Teeccino donates to the Alimentos Nutri-Naturales—a Guatemalen women’s group that helps women by teaching them to harvest and prepare ramón nuts for consumption.
Ramón trees are an essential part of the upper forest canopy in Central American rainforests. Creating a viable economic market for ramón nuts gives locals economic reasons for preserving the rainforest. The more NTFPs you can support, the more likely rainforests will stay intact.
Every time you sip a cup of Teeccino’s delicious Maya Herbal Coffees, you’ll be doing something good not only for your body but also for the rainforest and the women and children in Guatemala.
So the next time you are at your local health food store, purchase one of the teas mentioned here or look for other brands that sustainably source their ingredients from the rainforest. They are generally very healthy for you, and you can start your day feeling twice as good knowing you are playing your part in creating NTFP markets to preserve the worlds’ rainforests!
Guayakí Yerba Mate
Teeccino Maya Herbal Coffee