Farmers sorting Stevia seedlings at a nursery
Farmers sorting Stevia seedlings at a nursery

Farmers in Burera district are raising dust after a Canadian company promised to use their land to grow Stevia, a sweetener for soft drinks by Coca Cola, and earn more than they were getting from Irish potatoes,but the promise is hitting a proverbial wall.

Stevia Life Ltd negotiated, with Burera district authorities, a deal to introduce Stevia crop in the area. District authorities later stopped farmers from growing any other crops but Stevia.

They waited for seedlings for months, until today.

“We were stopped from growing potatoes because a new plant that was said would earn us more money was coming. We were cheated and we are hungry now,” complained Patricia Maniraguha one of the farmers.

The company had secured 15 hectares for demonstration at Butaro sector, Burera district, but nothing is on site. Yet, the land had been rented to farmers to grow potatoes and maize alternatively.

How it all began

Stevia is a sugar plant, 300 times sweeter than sugar cane. It contains an important ingredient used in production of beverages.

On November 14, 2011, Stevia Life Ltd was established in Rwanda to tap into the country’s opportunities in agriculture.

The company acquired 50 hectares in Rulindo district and invested $5.5 million in Stevia production. The Canadians had a plan to acquire more 1000 hectares of land in other districts by 2017.

However, there seems to be a problem that is holding back the company with a likelihood of halting its investment, and this has caused panic among various farmers.

“Stevia Life Ltd has failed,” said Jean Marie Vianney Kabiligi, in charge of Stevia project in Burera district.

Bruce Irambona, the general Manager of Stevia Life Ltd-Rwanda told KT Press that, “When we started, some issues were not fixed yet. We have a meeting with the ministry of agriculture to work on final agreements before we proceeded.”

Officials in Burera district however suspect that the company is facing a lack of financing from partners and it is stuck now.

Kabiligi also has heard that a new company, with a slightly same name; Life Sweeteners, could have been registered to take over Stevia Life Ltd project.

With all this mess, farmers in Burera district lost 525 tons of Irish potatoes last season, the main crop of the region.

They will also lose over 45 tons of maize this season because there season for planting is over. These shortfalls, all combined will bring a loss of Rwf 111 million to the 142 farmers.

Meanwhile, in December 2015 Irambona told KT Press that his company came into this business being well prepared.

He said they had secured a deal to supply dried leaves to Pure Circle, a Chinese company based in China and Malaysia, which processes Stevia soft drink for Coca Cola.

Among others, Coca Cola used Rwanda’s Stevia to launch its latest brand Coca Cola-Life, according to Irambona.

The price of dried leaves from Rwanda increased to $2.2/kg from the initial $1.5/kg.

When it launched, Stevia Life Ltd gave Rwanda a condition to avail 1000 hectares of land to grow enough for a processing plant.

The 1000 hectares from Kirehe, Rulindo and Bugesera districts among others were secured to be exploited by end of 2016.

A kilogram of processed Stevia would fetch up to $250, compared to current $2.2 per kilogram of dried leaves. The company is mainly targeting the international market.

It’s uncertain with the prevailing issues whether  the project will continue. Neither are the farmers sure what to do next.

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Stevia growing in the field

 

 Additional reporting by Jean de la Croix Tabaro




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