Oberá, cultivating a diamond in the forest

For many of us, it is a true surprise when we learn that most of the raw material for iced tea comes from Argentina. Sorry, say that again — Argentina? The land of soccer, wine, beef and dulce de leche?

Yes, Argentina is the world’s ninth largest producer of tea — all of which is for iced tea. It is also quite surprising to learn that the U.S. is the primary market for the Argentinian teas, constituting about 70 percent of total exports.

In May 2017, S&D Coffee & Tea had the great opportunity to host the Landscape Level Risk Workshop in partnership with Tea 2030 and Finlays in Oberá in the Misiones province in Argentina. This international workshop was the first one of its kind for the Argentinian tea sector. In a conservative sector with a long tradition of tough competition among longstanding family businesses, a certain degree of anxiety combined with high expectations was in the air prior to the workshop — given that they were all walking into unknown territory.

The workshop turnout was fantastic. It gathered over 50 representatives of multiple actors in the supply chain including the largest exporting companies, NGOs like Solidaridad, Conservation International, Imaflora and Fundación Biodiversidad Argentina and smallholder associations, among many others.

This was an incredible opportunity for all stakeholders to speak up and openly talk about the shared risks, including climate change and deforestation, and the challenges that we face when doing business in this fantastic and rich landscape. It is relevant to remember that Misiones is part of the Mata Atlántica Biome, one of the most biodiverse regions in the planet that also includes the magnificent Iguazú falls, making it a true biological gem.

During the workshops S&D shared experiences from the coffee industry, like the sustainable coffee challenge and the coalition for coffee communities (CCC) landscape assessment in Nicaragua, to inspire collective action and show ideas on how big systemic challenges can be addressed collectively. Additionally, our partner Conservation International shared the deforestation analysis that was commissioned by S&D.

As the day progressed it became obvious that the challenges and risks affecting the region are much too great for any given company to tackle them on its own. It was also great to see a genuine interest in making tea production viable for smallholders in the long run.

After eight hours of hard work, we all left the workshop energized and feeling that we planted a seed for structural change. Pre-competitive collaboration, empowering local actors and providing a framework for small farmers to thrive, were among the main conclusions of this sunny day together.

As a result of the workshop, attendees agreed on creating a steering committee with local stakeholders to coordinate and lead the future collective action workstreams that will emerge as a way to mitigate the risks mapped out during the workshop.

Oberá in the native language of the region (Guaraní) means “what shines”. We hope that — as an industry — we can all collectively participate in actions that will make this diamond shine from deep inside the forest.

Learn more about S&D’s ongoing commitment to a sustainable supply chain for coffee and tea.