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Sugar rush for stevia growers

The leaves of the stevia plant are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar
The leaves of the stevia plant are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar

Paraguay is to boost production of stevia (Stevia rebaudiana bertoni), a herb traditionally grown as a sweetener, following interest from soft drinks giant Coca-Cola. The so-called "sweet leaf" could become the company's new sugar-substitute, since its extract is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar and virtually calorie-free. Paraguay's Ministry of Industry and Commerce plans to increase the area dedicated to stevia cultivation from 1,500-50,000 hectares.

The forecasted "sugar rush" could create thousands of jobs in the country, where nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line. Stevia is a popular sweetener in commercial soft drinks across South America and Asia, and the boost in production is likely to stimulate competition with China - the world's biggest producer. China currently dedicates 20,000 ha to stevia production but farmers in Paraguay hope the country's favourable climate will allow more harvests per year compared to China.

Date published: September 2007


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