Stevia Nutra Corporation, a Canadian agro-company, said in a press release on Friday that the initial growing season of stevia, commonly known as sweetleaf, in Cambodia was successfully completed.
The first harvest of high-quality stevia leaves has now commenced and samples have been prepared for testing to determine its sweetness, a key determinant to the commercial viability of a stevia crop, the statement said.
Stevia is used as a natural low-calorie sweetener and sugar substitute, having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar. Stevia Nutra Corp had acquired 20 hectares of prime agricultural land in Kampong Speu province, according to a company statement in June 2012, adding that it plans to expand to 2,000 hectares, if the test results are positive.
Stevia Nutra’s chief agronomist, Ahmed El Sheikh, said in the statement: “The ideal growing conditions here in Cambodia combined with our choice of seed variety and rigorous agronomy protocols have proven to be very effective. The stevia plants are thriving with better than expected growth, and we are optimistic that initial leaf testing will yield positive results.”
Leaf samples have been sent to the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and will decide about the crop’s potential in Cambodia.
“Matching climate, soils, nutrients and cultivation practices with a robust and productive seed variety is a challenging exercise, and our team [with local partner Ecologica Co Ltd] has delivered,” Stevia Nutra Corp’s President, Brian Dicks, noted, adding that Kampong Speu had proved to be an excellent site.
While stevia had been widely used for decades as a sweetener in Japan, health concerns and political controversies have limited its availability in some countries such as those in the European Union. However, since 2011 stevia has been approved for use in the EU.
The World Health Organization estimates that stevia would make up about 20 per cent of the global sweetener market, valued today at over $10 billion, by 2015.