Company trials distance stevia cultivation for farmers with no land

A farming model that allows farmers and middle class Kenyans with no land but interested in growing stevia is promising over Sh300, 000 in annual earnings from an acre as demand for the crop used to make sweeteners, and being 30 times sweeter than sugar in its unprocessed form, soars.

Out-growers Management Services Limited one of the lead firm championing the cultivation of the crop has leased over 1000 acres of land to plant the crop in Uasin Gishu County. The firm’s creation of this new innovative farm management system is in line with efforts to increase the acreage under stevia production in the country buoyed by growing demand in especially Western market where a health conscious customer case is dictating that demand.

The land which has been subdivided into one acre sizes is aimed at individuals with a passion for farming and cannot involve themselves fully due to their other obligations.  Joseph Mulupi Musuya head of Out-growers Management Services Limited noted, “This is an innovative way to lure the busy people who have always had passion for farming but have not been successful maybe due to being disappointed by their farm managers they left the responsibilities to.”

The company aims to enable individuals under this program to produce Stevia cash crop without being physically involved. “Our approach in this venture is concerned with how we can organize an individual ‘‘farmer’’ to join pooled and organized factors of production like land, labor and capital effectively so as to yield you the largest net return,” said Mulupi. The Stevia grown under this concept shall be fully managed by the firm deploying and effectively managing resources and make use of economies of scale to realize best returns for the ‘farmers’.  Mulupi added that the interested individuals in the concept, will have to invest about Sh87,000 once per acre, and start realizing returns of about Sh300,000 annually for the next 4-5 years.

The crop is already enjoying a huge uptake in the western part of the country with over 1400 farmers in Bungoma County adopting the crop and this equals to about 120 acres of land which is under Stevia. However, Mulupi noted that this is just the initial success which is very minimal due to the newness of the crop and expects the number of acres under the crop to reach over 700 acres by the beginning of the year 2014.

Stevia farming is being positioned as a crucial cash crop in the region with a huge economic potential due to the increasing demand from the multinational soft drinks companies like Coca Cola which are now using the extract from the sweetening leaf as a substitute for sugar. This is in a bid to lure their health conscious clients who shun sugary products due to their association with health issues like diabetes and obesity.

“We entered into agreement with one of the leading Malasyian firm which extracts the sweetening content from the dry stevia leaves.” He added that the Malaysian firm just does the extraction of the sweetener and re-exports the extract to the multinational soft drinks companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi which are using the sweetener as a substitute for the sugar. “A number of consumers in the West have increasingly turned to stevia a natural alternative to sugar, to manage conditions such as diabetes and obesity and this ideally is pushing for the increased demand of the product,” noted Mulupi.

The crop’s huge economical capability experts say, can  change people’s livelihoods for the better as an acre that is well catered for can give about Sh500, 000 in returns with Mulupi explaining that it is being fronted in order to demystify the myth among many smallholder farmers who view farming as a loss making entity. “We are encouraging farmers to adopt this crop not only because of the huge demand for the raw material but also to ensure that the farmers have a source of livelihood that they can depend on for some time because the crop’s life span is about 5 years. This is relatively a long period of time putting in mind that the harvests are done thrice a year,” explained Joseph Mulupi.

The crop takes three months to mature and is harvested thrice a year. The firm propagates seedlings which it sells at Sh35 cents per seedling. Mulupi explained that for one to get the best results, an acre of land should be planted with about 60,000 seedlings. The company has seedlings which are being propagated daily.

The seedlings are transplanted from seedbeds after two months and planted into the fields. Proper management like weeding and application of folia promises better returns with over 1500 kilograms per harvest in an acre piece of land and this a good return compared to other crops given the fact that a kilo is bought by Mulupi’s firm at a price of about Sh105. Three times harvest per year can give a farmer over Sh300,000.

Stevia is 30 times sweeter than sugar in its unprocessed form and 250-300 times sweeter once it has been purified. Apart from Coca cola products, is also added to other products like chewing gum, yogurt, pickles, and confectionaries among others. Stevia is preferred over sugar due to the fact that it is deemed to have less calories hence ideal to fight obesity or diabetic conditions.