Rwanda expects stevia to become one of its main cash crops. A preliminary study has shown that the soil and climate are friendly to the growing of the plant, with sweet leaves that are used as natural sweetener. The country hopes to start exporting stevia this August.
There are readily available markets in China and Malaysia, and expectations are that Europe and the US will follow. The harvest is sold as dry leaves with one kilogramme costing about one euro. "Stevia is a more productive crop than Rwanda's traditional cash crops like coffee and tea and is harvested in a short period”, says agricultural expert Bruce Irambona.
The crop is harvested only five months after planting and, from then, leaves are picked every other month, while the plantation lasts for four to five years, according to Irambona. The main challenge Rwanda faces is land shortage.
"We want to extend the plantation in valleys and we also wish to engage out-growers. We will give them seeds and assure them of a market.” Expensive fertilisers that have to be imported are not needed. "The plant can healthily thrive on organic manure,” says Irambona.
Trade and Industry minister Francois Kanimba feels that stevia would be a strategic addition to tea and coffee. He wants the country to build its own factory so that they can export final products instead of dry leaves.