Agriculture / Peru / Stevia

Sustainably Sweet

Having become the first ever farm group growing the sugar substitute stevia to gain Rainforest Alliance certification at the end of last year, Sebastiaan Saverys from the Stevia One Peru SAC, which includes three farms, tells us more about his sustainably sweet success…

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“The simple focus on profit was the business model of past decades, and one can clearly see where that led us,” explains Sebastiaan Saverys, referring to the philosophy behind the Stevia One Perú SAC farm group. “But without any profit at all it is not possible to pay decent wages,” he adds in a reference to the holy trinity of sustainability: People – Planet – Profit. Sustainable “sustainability” can be summed up and defined as simply that. Only when every aspect has been considered and fostered is a business model viable. For Saverys it is clear that the SAN Standard – the foundation for the Rainforest Alliance certification – most closely corresponds to this ethos. “You cannot feed 9 billion people with Organic alone, and the Fairtrade approaches do not cover the three Ps so comprehensively,” adds Saverys, who is a member of the managing board of the Farm Group.

Stevia One in Peru covers 750 hectares in subtropical Latin America. Although the farm group has highly professional working methods, a great deal had to be accomplished before successful certification. “In just three months we have rectified more than 300 minor shortcomings,” replies the naturalised Peruvian Saverys when asked about the changes that certification initiated on the farm. “Moreover, we had to implement various infrastructural measures.” Stevia One has its own bio-lab directly on the main farm, in which native species of tree are grown and in which it creates its own stevia varieties. “We take our obligation to nature very seriously, the more productive our GMO-free stevia plants are, the less nature is burdened,” is how he explains their endeavours. A further consequence of this perceived obligation is the manner in which the sweetener Rebaudioside A is extracted from the leaves. This sweetening additive is 300 times sweeter than normal household sugar and has the least innate taste of all the sweeteners found in stevia leaves. Many processes used in stevia production use chemicals to extract and refine the desired ingredients. Stevia One uses a method that complies with the organic guidelines through a unique process in which the sweetening non-caloric natural molecules are extracted from the fresh stevia leaves only using physical separation molecules without any chemical added. The bio-waste is composted and used as fertilizer, the process liquids are recycled. Thus the production method has a low negative impact on the environment and virtually no emissions.

Construction work has already begun on a large-scale factory on the farm premises in order to be able to offer the steviosides directly with the green frog seal. Moreover, the knowledge remains on the farm and in the country, and the fresh stevia leaves do not have to travel long distances for further processing. The SAN-Standard is a farm standard, which means that everything which is manufactured within the certified farm landmarks may also be marketed with the seal. Perhaps there will soon be low-calorie soft drinks carrying our seal.

Thanks to the greater sweetening effect, sustainable stevia cultivation means that the burden on the environment is lowered two-fold. One hectare of stevia can replace 60 to 90 hectares of sugar; freeing up a lot of land for other purposes. A milestone has been reached with the certification of the first stevia farm. Establishing the concept of sustainability at an early stage in cultivation will ultimately ensure that many of the errors that occur with other tropical plants can be avoided with stevia. Stevia One is not only the first sustainable stevia farm, it is also one of the largest; which means a stevia-sweet outlook for Peru’s rainforests as the impact on ecosystems has been greatly reduced and its 520 permanent workers are treated fairly, their welfare is a priority and their wages are above the national average.

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