Raipur: The worst Maoist-hit Bastar region in Chhattisgarh, which usually remains in the news for all the wrong reasons like encounters, IED blasts, ambushes, public trials by Maoists etc., is now getting a fresh identity in Europe. The district is getting a major transformational change in the field of agriculture with the cultivation of Stevia. 400 farmers have started community farming by cultivating Stevia in 700 acres of land and exporting it to Europe.

Stevia is a natural sweetener and its active compound steviol glycosides are 300 times sweeter than the sugar made from sugarcane. Having zero-calorie value, along with some medicinal properties, Stevia is helpful in dealing with diabetes, heart ailments, obesity and high blood pressure.

"As many as 400 farmers under the community initiative have united for undertaking the farming of Stevia in around 700 acres of land sprawling in 3 insurgency-hit districts including Kondagaon, Sukma and Bastar in Bastar division," said Dr Rajaram Tripathi, who works in the cultivation of Stevia alongside 400 farmers. Dr Tripathi is an ex-banker who helps local farmers.

Currently, the farmers are cultivating tonnes of Stevia leaves and are successfully exporting them to European countries.

“I came to know about Stevia farming that was ongoing in China on a massive scale and sweetener manufactured from Stevia leaves while undertaking marketing of ‘Safed Musli’ across the country and overseas. I thought we could cultivate this profitable crop in India and farmers could benefit from it. Meanwhile, I also learnt about the role of bigger traders and middle-men who influence crop price in domestic as well as international markets and this led to the formation of farmers’ group,” said Dr Tripathi.

Owing to the success of farmers here, people from Odisha, Jharkhand, Telangana and other neighbouring states too are opening up to the idea of cultivating Stevia, added Dr Tripathi. He further informed that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has decided to establish the first-of-its-kind processing unit in India for extraction of the natural sweetener from Stevia leaves.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-IHBT, Palampur (H.P) has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the company started by these 400 farmers for Stevia cultivation in 10 acres in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, as per the technical know-how of CSIR-IHBT. The activity will promote socio-economic development in this tribal area. 

In another MoU, CSIR-IHBT, Palampur (H.P) will provide guidance and technical know-how to the company for establishment of processing unit at a site selected in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for extraction of Steviol Glycosides.

As of now, around 400 farmers are linked to the group and once the processing unit will start, it is expected of benefiting 20000 farmers. The processing unit will be starting within one year as the site for setting-up of the processing unit has been fixed by a team of experts which recently visited Kondagaon.

With inputs from Sandeep Pradhan