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Canadian firm to launch stevia plant in Rwanda

Rwanda has signed an agreement with Canada-based SteviaLife to establish a stevia processing plant in the East African country

Stevia is a natural sweetener that has no calories.

Dorian Banks, CEO of SteviaLife, said that the extract plant is worth US$2mn to US$3mn and is expected to set up in mid-2016. “We plan to build a US$10mn plant to process refined stevia in 2018, if we get between 2,000ha to 5,000ha of stevia plantation in the country," he added.

According to Bruce Irambona, general manager of SteviaLife, at least 25,000 people will be employed on every 100ha of the plant.

The agreement is expected to promote the new crop in the country and add value to it mainly to boost the country's export base.

François Kanimba, trade and industry minister of Rwanda, said, “Stevia plant has natural sugar that has no side effects on the body, like those caused by normal sugar, including diabetes. Major beverages and foods factories in the world are scrambling for stevia because of its health benefits."

He cited the example of the Coca Cola Company, which has started using stevia to produce Coca Cola Life.

Kanimba said that people have started to understand the benefits of the crop because it generates more revenue per ha area than any other crop. Stevia can produce between six and eight tonnes per ha per year and is harvested up to five years before they can be replaced.

"We agreed to help the investor get the land, be it government land or helping them work with farmers to get the 1,000 ha needed," the minister added.

Stevia, which was piloted in Rulindo District in 2011, will be planted in districts like Bugesera, Kirehe, Gasabo, Nyaruguru and Rwamagana.

George William Kayonga, chief executive of the National Agriculture Exports Development Board in Rwanda, said that over the next three years, the government will support the investor to acquire nucleus farms of 400ha.