Stevia rebaudiana, the plant that yields sweeteners that can be used in foods and beverages, is native to the north of Paraguay. But supplier PureCircle, which today has 1500 hectares in the north, was looking to diversify growing locations. A nursery and test plot in the department of Itapua caught the attention of the governor, John Afara, whose enthusiasm for stevia has been instrumentalin bringing about the agreement.
Under the agreement, non-profit NGO Paruguay Vende is to receive funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Paraguay Vende will then provide technicians who will work at a grassroots level to train farmers. The funding is valued at around US$150,000, Fernando Chilavert, managing director of PureCircle Paraguay, told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
“The origin of stevia is in the north east of Paraguay, around the province of San Pedro and towards the border with Brazil,” Chilavert said. “Historically it is produced in small plots. The north is characterized by smaller growers. The south, while it has smaller growers, also has larger farms.”
The aim is to have 2000 hectares in Itapua producing stevia in the next three years, all of which will be bought by PureCircle, which markets an extract with high purity of rebaudioside A (Reb A).
Dorn Wenninger, corporate VP of supply chain, said: “PureCircle is providing the business case.” It is also training Paraguay Vende’s technicians to work on the ground.
Along with its 1500 hectares of stevia in the north, the investment will more than double its supply from the country.
There are plans to construct an extraction facility in Paraguay, once PureCircle has enough stevia to support it. Wenninger said the aim is to have 6000 hectares controlled by PureCircle in Paraguay. In the meantime, extraction is carried out in Asia.
The aim is to construct the facility so its completion coincides with the expansion in leaf availability.