October 2015

Stevia

Is stevia the plant of the future? Some in Bolivia believed in it. The company Tierra Dulce defrauded 800 persons of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba by selling them false investments in stevia products. The earnings of this swindle amounted to 15,000 dollars. How is it possible that such a huge number of people invested so much in this business? Naturally because of the proposed investment’s allure. Besides, it seems easy to believe nowadays in stevia’s success story.

By: Claire Deluc
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Le manf – France


Stevia from los Yungas in La Paz
Photo: Ximena Noya

Stevia: the success story of conquering the world market?

Stevia has not been used to be such a success. Therefore, some only speak about “a fashion.” Will stevia be able to preserve the place conquered within the international market? Obviously, it will for Giovani Santiago Guevara A., El Mana’s business manager, a store offering natural products by Cochabamba’s main square 14 de Septiembre. “In stevia’s leaf stevia, there is nothing negative. The problem is that the products commercialized in the supermarkets are not stevia. Therefore, it is possible that some, as the diabetics, get in trouble.”


Stevia shop
Photo: Ximena Noya

Indeed, Stevia has quite a long history and therefore already demonstrated its abilities. The Guarani - a people originating from Paraguay – were the first one who cultivated the plant. So, to explore its virtues, we have to back up 1,500 years. In Latin America, the plant generally inspired trust, especially in Brazil when it has been abundantly produced. Since then, the plant widely convinced the Japanese, currently the world’s top consumers, of its benefitsworld.

Nevertheless, it has taken a long time for the World Health Organization (WHO) to differentiate between the plant and its byproducts. According to Giovani Santiago Guevara A, “The basic difference between the products is the real quantity of stevia used to make the product. What is left is what is giving the color and the flavor of the product.” Then, when in 2008 the WHO assured there was no health danger with stevia, the world market begun to open its doors to it. For example, the European Union gave its consent for marketing it in 2011.

“The principal propriety of stevia is to sweeten in a natural way that is to say without altering the organism”

Why is this plant so desired today?

The punch line to sell stevia is that it is absolutely natural. “The principal propriety of stevia is to sweeten in a natural way that is to say without altering the organism,” El Mana’s business manager reminds us. Stevia is often seen as a substitute to sugar as well as aspartame, yet it is not so simple. “The body has to have the ability to convert the sugar in energy but the causes of diabetes are not always fromsugar,” continues Giovani Santiago Guevara A.

Let’s be clear, what is stevia? Protein, fiber, iron, vitamins A and C, calcium, and phosphorus. All of these are healthy components. Stevia is quite used to fight against diseases like digestive problems, obesity, tooth decay, blood pressure problems or rheumatism… So, more than just a complementary food, stevia can become a medical help for recovery treatment. However, this aspect of the plant is very underdeveloped for now.

We better understand why stevia is so desired by looking through the food processing companies. They became since a few big consumers of stevia. And guess who first used stevia to change its recipes? Coca Cola! The brand makes of stevia its new trademark to develop healthier products and to rebuild its image. The bet holds the road with the new line “Coca Cola Life” and its green design. And Coca Cola is not the only one interested in stevia. Therefore, this plant will soon invade all our plates.

So, is stevia the plant of the future?


Estevia fron Yungas - La Paz
Photo: Ximena Noya

Surprisingly enough, while stevia comes from Latin America, China cultivates 90% of it. Nevertheless, this plant could represent the future of small local producers in the American continent.

Nowadays, global production of stevia is insufficient to cover a rapidly increasing worldwide demand. The Global Stevia Institute registered the augmentation of stevia consumption all around the world in the last five years. With an annual consumption growth rate of over 149 percent, Europe could soon become an interesting market. This is to say that any new company that would like to open a line of stevia products does not incur any risk at all.

Surprisingly enough, while stevia comes from Latin America, China cultivates 90% of it. Nevertheless, this plant could represent the future of small local producers in the American continent. On the one hand, this plant requires a subtropical climate. If it is well maintained, it can produce between four and five harvests a year. On the other hand, stevia culture corresponds to what is called human–size agriculture. Indeed, as the plants’ needs are more labor intensive than other plants, it became a way to fight against rural poverty.

Evo Morales understood it quite well. He signed a contract in September 2014 with a company from Cuba to exploit the resources of stevia in Shinahota, near Cochabamba. For the president of Bolivia, this is just the beginning. He remarked: “If we get good results and benefits, we are going to increase the industry of stevia in this location.” Stevia represents for Bolivia at the same time a productive challenge and a chance to get an opening in the international market.

With Stevia, it is time for Bolivia to “no longer be a consumer country but a productive one,” according to Evo Morales.

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