Promoting farmer entrepreneurship
The crop, known as Stevia, is being piloted under a project owned by Dorian Banks from Canada and it is a commonly known natural sweetener with sweet leaves.
The pilot project is located in Yanze Valley in Ngoma Sector of Rulindo District, and the crop has been planted on a 42-hectare piece of land.
According to Eng. Bruce Irambona, who deals with the production and management of Stevia in Rwanda, a preliminary study showed that the soil and the climate of Rwanda are friendly to the crop adding that it will soon be in the category of coffee and tea, the country’s traditional cash crops.
“Stevia is a more productive cash crop and it is harvested in a short period. It is, however, a delicate plant that needs more care; we are harvesting leaves which we plan to export after drying,” said Irambona,“We shall start exporting next month.”
The crop is harvested only after five months of planting and, from then, leaves are picked every after one month, while the plantation lasts four five years, according to Irambona.
There are readily available markets in China and Malaysia, and the harvest is sold as dry leaves with one kilogramme costing $1.5 (approximately Rwf1,000).
Trade and Industry minister Francois Kanimba, who visited the project this week, expressed government interest in the crop, saying that Stevia would be a strategic addition to tea and coffee which are the main exports.
“This means a lot, that this crop can generate $100 million within five years,” Kanimba said adding that such initiatives are needed to reduce the import-export deficit.
He, however, urged the project managers to look for ways to have their own factory in the coming years so they can export final products.
In an interview yesterday, Dr Agnes Kalibata, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, said that Stevia was approved as a new cash crop and that government will ensure that the plant is grown in other districts.
She said the product will contribute to the development of the country including creating jobs for farmers, adding that the long-term plan is to ensure it is properly processed to supplement sugar that is both locally produced and imported.
“It is a new cash crop, it is a diversification of agriculture and as we grow it, it will reduce requirement of sugar, the plan over next four years is to have it grown in all districts,” Kalibata said by phone.
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