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    Stevia | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 February 2015

The natural sweetener will be imported massively again by Japan after a four year hiatus.

Japan re-opened its doors to stevia exports from Paraguay and committed itself to purchase all of its production of the natural sweetener, corresponding to an average of 600-700 tons a year and a value of about US$1-1.5 billion.

Japanese experts will visit Paraguay in April in order to carry out the sanitary procedures to grant the exportation licenses for the product, said Paraguay Vice Minister of Economic Relations Rigoberto Gauto in a press conference.

Japan had interrupted its exportation in 2011 because of the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease reported in Paraguay.

Stevia is a plant originally from Paraguay. It is receiving more and more scientific attention as a natural alternative to industrial sugar. In the 1970s, its consumption and production extended to Asia, while China is now responsible for almost 80 percent of the worldwide production. However, the Paraguayan plant receives more interest from the sugar industry abroad, as it can be cultivated up to four times a year, while only once a year in China. 

With the rise in health-conscious consumers and concern about obesity, the plant is increasingly drawing interest from big corporations that dominate the sugar market. In October 2014, U.S. company Domino Sugar launched its first no-calorie natural sweetener with Paraguayan stevia.

So far, this has represented a welcomed opportunity for Paraguayan farmers, as stevia production is still low in quantity and prices are raising fast along with international demand.

In the meantime, giant corporations like Coca-Cola have already announced alliances with sugar makers like Cargill in order to start their own mass production of the plant in Paraguay. Because of the highly unequal distribution of land in the country, however, this opportunity could also have negative consequences on small farmers in Paraguay. 

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