CSIR-IHBT Palampur, drives Stevia growth in the country

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CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Palampur , in Himachal Pradesh has become the major driver of Stevia production – the popular low calorie natural sweetener, in the country. With growing diabetes,obesity in the country there is high demand for sugar free or low calorie products. According to a 2015 report of WHO nearly 8.7% of the Indian population or nearly 69.2 million people are affected by the debilitating disease.

The leaves of the herb Stevia is now being used as an alternative to sugar so that patients avoid sugar rich food. However cultivation of stevia in the country is fairly recent. According to scientists at CSIR-IHBT stevia a perennial herb native to South America even known as sweet herb of Paraguay.

The most abundant glycosides in stevia leaf are Rebaudioside-A and stevioside which are about 300 times sweeter than sucrose, scientists say. It is an alternative source sugar for diabetics and health conscious persons because it is natural and has a low calorific value.

Worldwide, 32,000 hectares land are covered under stevia cultivation, of which China has a major chunk of 75%. The Indian farmers have also started taking up stevia cultivation following the large demand for diabetic market here. Now, the global stevia market is rapidly increasing. In 2014, the global stevia consumption as food ingredient was estimated at 5,100.6 ton, and it is projected to reach 8,506.9 ton by 2020. Though, Japan and Korea are the main consumers of stevia, China is the largest producer in the world.

Dr Sanjay Kumar, Director CSIR, IHBT said, “ Our Institute is aiming to develop improved varieties and suitable agro-technology to fuel global stevia cultivation and product development.” India has suitable climate for its growth and development because it is grown under tropical and sub-tropical conditions with 65-80% relative humidity, warm and sunny weather are suitable for its growth and development.In Himachal Pradesh it can be grown in the low hills and plains, scientists say.

However, the major problem with stevia is lack of suitable varieties, proper agro-technology and process technology, and most of the imported existing varieties are of low content of Reb-A compared with Stevioside.

In recent days CSIR-IHBT has successfully developed improved cultivar “Him Stevia” with better quality of sweetness and total glycoside content of 14.49% on dry weight basis. The Institute has introduced stevia as commercial crop with standardised agro-technology package for better productivity and quality.

Through Institute’s intervention stevia is now grown over 2050 acres in Punjab,Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, benefiting 2530 farmers with estimated employment generation of over 2 lakh mandays annually. In addition, the Institute has also provided planting material to the farmers of J&K, Karnataka and Uttarakhand

On an average dry leaf yield of stevia is 3.0-3.5 tons/ha/year, which fetches market price of Rs.100 to 120/ kg, resulting in net return of Rs.2.0-2.7 lakhs/ha/year. Maximum quantity of leaf is produced in 3rd or 4th year of planting. The average net income from stevia cultivation has been observed to be 2.0-2.5 times higher than traditional crops.

Now CSIR-IHBT has developed improved varieties and good agricultural practices yielding higher biomass for different agro-climatic conditions. Stevia high in anti oxidants can be used for producing diabetic diets, table top sweetener for tea, coffee, and soft drinks, fruit juices, Ice-creams, yoghurts, jams, sauces, pickles, biscuits, pies, desserts, chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwashes. Stevia with its low calorie can be used for the treatment of hypertension, blood pressure, tooth decay and obesity.

Dr Sanjay Kumar said, “ Institute is regularly receiving requests for cultivation and spread of stevia from different parts of the country including Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, MP, Manipur among others.”