One of the many money-making opportunities that exist in Nigeria’s agricultural space is the cultivation of stevia – a sweetener and sugar substitute derived from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, native to Brazil and Paraguay, which can now be successfully grown in Nigeria as a raw material for many value-added products, says a certified agribusiness consultant, Amb Adeniyi Sola Bunmi.
In the United States, high-purity stevia glycoside extracts have been ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) since 2008, and are allowed in food products, the European Union approved stevia additives in 2011, while in Japan stevia has been widely used as a sweetener for decades.
The legal status of stevia as a food additive or dietary supplement varies from country to country, but stevia leaf and crude extracts do not yet have GRAS or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in food.
According to Adeniyi, Stevia has been cultivated and processed for than 100 years and yet Nigerians don’t know much about it.
He disclosed in a chat with NATIONAL ECONOMY that he was committed to exposing Nigeria to potentials in agribusiness.
“I imported the seedling from Kenya and now cultivating a seed nursery, to help more people have access to seeds, so that the quantity grown in the country would reach a sustainable level for value-addition.
Stevia active compounds are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which have 30 to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, it is heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable.
According to experts, the body does not metabolize the glycosides in stevia, so it contains zero calories like some artificial sweeteners. Stevia’s taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.
Adeniyi explained that he has acquired knowledge of the agronomy procedures and is willing to pass on the knowledge to as many as are interested in cultivating the crop.
“We have foreseen that once there is adequate awareness of stevia, it will trigger an industry that would create a lot of demand for raw materials because there is a lot of value to be added through processing.
“Currently, we are looking to see how to galvanise at least 50 people to cultivate a minimum of one acre each of stevia for a start.
“The challenge is the information gap, because nobody will invest time and other resources into what there is little or no knowledge of.
He noted that Nigerians needed to take advantage of learning and information platforms to acquire more knowledge, in order to drive their personal economies and key into the bigger picture of what government is doing to drive the national economy.
“We need to strive towards global competitiveness, we seem to always be late in acquiring knowledge and this is not good for our development, we can no longer afford to let the rest of the world be 10 years ahead of us.” Adding that: “There is a lot that NAFDAC does not know about especially as it relates to agricultural derivatives of immense value. The huge information and knowledge gap in the agricultural sector is a major why the sector is not recording phenomenal growth in agriculture as it should.”
Adeniyi disclosed that his company, Stevia Nigeria has already developed a product from stevia that will be accepted in the market when it is launched.
“That is one of the reasons, we are training more people on the cultivation, so that we can off-take from them and fill the raw material demand.
“We will approach NAFDAC very soon for the product’s registration,” he said.
Adeniyi has trained over 5000 individuals on sustainable agricultural practices with the youth and women as the focus; impacting many lives through his development and incubation centre.
Some of his companies include: Gogreen Africa Initiative, an NGO focused on capacity building; Mcube Global Connect Ltd, an exporter of commodities; Natural Nutrient Limited; & Highhill Agribusiness Development and Incubation Centre.
A write up by Natalie Digate Muth, a pediatrics resident at UCLA Medical Center, a registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), claims that: “Americans now can get their calorie-free sugar fix from an all-natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. Once limited to the health-food market as an unapproved herb, the plant-derived sweetener known as stevia is now widely available and rapidly replacing artificial sweeteners in consumer products. Thirty times sweeter than sugar and with no effect on blood sugar and little aftertaste, stevia sales are predicted to reach about $700 million in the next few years, according to the agribusiness finance giant Rabobank.”