Stevia: indigenous plant of Paraguay

This is sweet news for Paraguay, even while Argentina and other neighboring countries seek to develop their production of stevia as an alternative sweetener.

Stevia producers and farmers gathered in November 13-14, 2012 in Asuncion to discuss current challenges and accomplishments in their initiatives.Under the framework of the VI International Symposium of Stevia, President Federico Franco informed participants that Stevia or Ka'a He'ê hs been declared as a plant of Paraguayan genetic heritage. The Head of State announced substantial investments to encourage the cultivation of this natural non-caloric sweetener, discovered by Moise Giacomo Bertoni in 1887.

Stevia is a herbaceous plant and native to Paraguay that is making inroads worldwide as an alternative to traditional sugars - derived from sugar cane, sugar beets and maize - as a sweetener. It is widely used as a sweetener in Asia, and its use is growing in the United States and elsewhere. Stevia is a naturally low-calorie sweetener and has been described as a boon to people suffering with diabetes and/or obesity.

The President of Paraguayan Chamber of Stevia Production (CAPASTE), Juan Barbosa, asked government representatives to enact legislation that encourages Stevia production as well as developing a certification stamp that would accompany Paraguay’s stevia products exported abroad. President Franco’s government introduced in this symposium a number of initiatives in to increase production, processing and marketing of Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni in the international markets.

The president noted that: “the Ministry of Agriculture and Dairy (MAG) products, is planning to invest over USD 2 million towards the production of Ka'a He'ê for the last quarter of 2013 and following next year.”

Production of stevia sprouts requires modern technology; the Paraguayan ministry of Agriculture is working to develop techniques, tools and research labs to facilitate the cultivation of stevia on a larger scale.

Enzo Cardozo, the minister of Agriculture, expressed his commitment that “the Ministry of Agriculture will create programs of training, research and expand Stevia plantations across the country, in order to transform Paraguay into a top producer of stevia on the world stage.

Paraguayan farmers have cultivated more than 2,200 hectares of stevia plants. Other countries in the region such as Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia are directing their energies towards large scale production of stevia.

Spero columnist Peter M Tase writes on Latin America and trade issues.

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