The demand for sugar in Sri Lanka is likely to go up steadily in the coming years, in tune with the growth of the economy and percapita
income of the country men. To meet this demand for sugar, Sri Lanka has to import its requirement of sugar to considerable extent in future. In the international market, the price of sugar is fluctuating,which appears to be considerably manipulated by the global trading houses and cartels.
This situation point to the need to focus on stevia cultivation in Sri Lanka in a big way. Stevia is the natural sweetener and it can solve the problem of sugar shortage to some extent ,if the cultivation of stevia would be promoted by the government by suitable policy initiatives.
Stevia can certainly be used as substitute for sugar particularly for industrial purposes. A kilogramme of stevia is around 200 to 300 times more sweet than a kilogramme of granular sugar and stevia provides zero calories.
Stevia is a cholestral free sugar alternative medicinal plant .The sweetness of stevia is preserved in its leaves for length of time with no appreciable decrease in sweetness. The stevia leaves contain several chemicals called glycosides, which taste sweet, but do not provide calories. Glycosides in the leaves of stevia include upto 10% stevioside and stevioside accounts for its incredible sweetness, making it unique.
The crude leaves and the crude stevia extracts from the leaves are 10 to 15 times sweeter than commercially available granular sugar. The refined extracts of stevia contain 85 to 95% of steviosides,which is in liquid or natural creamy, off white colour powder form. The refined stevia are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Cultivation practices and yield
Stevia plants grow best in a rich, loamy soil .A region with low wind velocity, and assured water resources suits this plant well. The plants will grow to a height of 75 cm and width of 45 to 60 cm.
Stevia is cultivated primarily in South America and Asia. Countries growing Stevia include Paraguay, Brazil, Canada, USA, China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Ukraine and United Kingdom.
Worldwide more than 1,00,000 hectares are reported to be covered under Stevia cultivation, of which China has a major chunk.
Global demand for stevia extract is now many thousands of metric tonnes.
In USA, in September of 1995, the FDA allowed stevia and its extracts to be imported as a food supplement but not as a sweetener. Stevia is currently legal as a dietary supplement and must be labeled as such for sale in USA.
In Japan. in the 1970s, the Japanese government approved and the plant and food manufacturers began using stevia extracts to sweeten everything from sweet soy sauce and pickles to diet Coke. Stevia and its extracts have captured over 40% of the Japanese market.
In Brazil , stevia is fully approved for use . China and South Korea have approved the use of stevia as sweetener.
Major food companies like Coca Cola and Beatrice Foods, use stevia extracts to sweeten foods for sale in Japan, Brazil and other countries where it is approved.
Sri Lankan Scenario
Stevia can have demand potentials in Sri Lanka, since it is a natural sweetener without calories, particularly considering the diabetic population in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is not cultivating any stevia at present and even if any experimental plantation would have been carried out in the recent past, it would be at negligible level.
Obviously, stevia production, particularly considering the fact that it is atleast 200to300 times sweeter than granular sugar, will elegantly meet the requirement of sugar in Sri Lanka including the demang in pharmaceuticals, confectionary and soft drink industries in Sri Lanka. The consumers wanting to substitute sugar would find stevia to be an acceptable alternate choice.
Sri Lanka needs a strong proactive stevia promotional programme from the government that would provide multiple benefits , apart from enabling the country to reduce its dependence on sugar imports to some extent.
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