Stevia Farming: A Leaf That is Changing the Lives of Many Farmers
A single dry leaf of stevia in the international market will cost approximately $2 equivalent to Ksh. 200. In powder form, the price scales upward of Ksh. 5,000. When the same product is sold locally, a 100g in raw form will approximately cost a cool Ksh. 300 while in powder form, Ksh. 1,500 and above.
If we compare the price margin of stevia with that of sugar, the economic margin is massive. With sugarcane farmers crying foul and the Country’s sector looking bleak, stevia maybe the saving grace for sugarcane and new farmers alike.
What is its demand value?
Due to its zero calorie content, medical personnel are recommending it as a replacement of table sugar for healthy living enthusiasts and diabetic patients. Commonly known as sugar leaf or sweet leaf, Stevia is a natural sweetener and is also a popular favorite among manufacturing companies that make beverages, who use the plant to make soda. Yoghurt, chewing gum and confectionaries are also some of the items stevia is used to make.
Where can it be grown?
In 2012, National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) approved the planting of stevia for commercial production in Kericho, Bomet, Laikipia, Meru, Bungoma, Nakuru, Nandi, Narok and Uasin Gishu counties. Its performance is pegged on sandy loam soils that have high organic matter and soils that have a pH value of 5.5-6.5.
How to do I start?
Depending on farm size, a farmer can have initial capital of Ksh. 20,000 – Ksh. 60,000. For better results, the cash crop is to be grown from seedlings to produce best yields. To source for these seedlings, a company like PureCircle, Stevia Group Africa, agro vet shops and individual sellers can easily provide the seedlings at a price range of Ksh. 1 – Ksh. 100 and give guidelines of how to manage the crop.
Stevia has a high tolerance of pests and diseases. It thrives at optimum temperatures of 15°C – 35°C and rainfall of 1000 – 2000mm. Without rainfall, stevia can also be grown in dry areas with drip irrigation as long as the water is clean.
Once planted, stevia can be harvested continuously for years with farmers harvesting every three months. This means, the initial seedling cost will service you for years before clearing the plantation.
The harvesting process is less stressful compared to other crops because stevia does not require to be fresh when transported.
How much can you make from Stevia?
The recommended plant density for stevia on an acre of land is 60,000. Depending on the seedling evaluation per piece of land, a farmer is more likely to spend approximately Ksh. 20,000 on seedlings. If one acre produces between 1000-1500kgs of stevia per harvest, and the market price of raw stevia per kg is between Ksh. 200 – Ksh. 300, a farmer can make approximately Ksh. 200,000 or Ksh. 450,000 every 90 days.
Since stevia is a local and international crop, market sourcing is best facilitated by individuals and companies that work with stevia farmers on contract. This gives farmers a safety net on product supply and purchase.
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