BHAKATAPUR: Stevia farming has been started for the first time ever in Bhaktapur district.
The commercial farming of the stevia plant which can be an alternative to sugar, was started jointly by Krishna Kaji Manandhar of Ward No. 12, Purushottam Shrestha of Ward No. 11, Raj Prajapati and Ramesh Thusa Shrestha of Ward No. 3, all from Madhyapur Thimi Municipality.
The sweet plant has been planted in an area of 30 ropanis of land situated at Gamcha, Ward No. 6 of Dadhikot VDC. The place is two kilometres south of Sankhadhar Chowk of the municipality.
Likewise, Krishna Kaji Prajapati, who was a journalist for six years, is now trying to establish himself as a successful farmer giving up his earlier profession. "Only through the development of agriculture and other production sectors can the country like Nepal attain prosperity," he said.
Prajapati said all could be self-reliant if only the agricultural sector was systematically developed and that the state should pay special attention to stop the trend of youths leaving the country by ending the political transition.
The youths, who leave the country in their thousands daily, should give up their interests of going abroad for jobs and instead they should accept the possibility of development of agriculture, he added.
Purushottam Shrestha, one of the three farmers who are thinking of promoting the agro-production, explained his plan of adopting the commercial plantation of aloe vera, tomatoes, different species of flowers, fisheries, and rearing of cows and goats. The three farmers have a plan of investing four million rupees for the project and that they have already invested Rs. 2.5 millions.
Stevia is locally called as chinijhar, mishrijhar, mithajhar (sweet herb or honey leaf) though its scientific name is Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni.
It is a kind of evergreen plant. The plant is reported to be discovered from Paraguay and Brazil, the South American countries.
According to the Department of Plant Resources, the red Indians used to use the plant in a secret way around 1500 AD.
Developed countries like Japan, France, Germany, USA and our southern neighbour India and northern neighbour China also cultivate the herb in a commercial way and have begun to use the herb in producing chocolates, chewing gum, ice-cream, biscuits, fruit juice and toothpaste and in other cosmetic goods, later.
Dr. Parshuram Pokharel had first imported the stevia plant in Nepal for the first time in 2065 B.S. from Russia, said Keshari Maiya Rajkarnikar, Nepali Scientist Officer at the Department.
The stevia leaf is 200-300 per cent sweeter than sugar but it is calorie free and that it is proved safe to use even by the diabetes patients, said Rajkarnikar.
It is claimed that the use of sugar has resulted in diabetes, obesity, stomach diseases in human body and badly affects memory power whereas the sugary element in the stevia plant makes no adverse impact on human health. The excessive sugar can also be one of the factors for causing cancer.
The stevia saplings are produced through Tissue culture technology and can be cultivated in every part of the country, said Sawari Rajbahak, Assistant Scientist Officer at the Department. The plant is slightly taller than Tulasi plant.
Different researches have shown that Nepal has good possibilities for stevia plantation. It is reported that the researches have shown that lower mountainous region, Chure area, and Terai regions have suitable climate and soil for stevia plantation.
Once stevia is planted, it lives for 15 years. Around 7,000 metric tonnes of dry leaves of stevia could meet the demand for sugar in the country as one kilogramme of stevia leafs contains sweetness equal to 20 kilogrammes of sugar.
Currently, only 60 percent of sugar market is occupied by internal production while the country has to import 40 per cent sugar from India.
The demand of sugar could be addressed from within the country if the bodies concerned only paid necessary attention in this regard and encourage stevia farming.