Given the threat of climate change and its imminent effects to the crops sector, adaptation and adjustment efforts were being done to Stevia plants being grown under an on-going project titled, “Commercialization of Stevia Rebuadiana: A Natural Sweetener”. This was reported by Dr. Maria Elena F. Quimio of the Bicolandia Greenfields Development Organization, a non-government organization based in Naga City, during a project status update to the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar who recently visited the project site in Ocampo, Camarines Sur. Given the great potential of Stevia in the foreign market as a natural sweetener, BAR is funding the project under its National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP).
According to Dr. Quimio, Adaptation strategies are being conducted in response to climate change disturbances in the country and ensure the success of the project. Since Stevia plants are not native in the Philippines growing them has to be managed well through effective cultural management and interventions.
“Raised beds were established to prevent water log and peripheral drainage canals were built around the periphery of the farm area,” Dr.Quimio explained. “Ratooning, applications of organic sprays on plants, and proper distancing to avoid crowding were done to prevent infestation of fungus and pests brought about by rains and frequent rainy cloud conditions.”
Dr.Quimio added that their group has used bamboo sticks to anchor newly planted stevia in table beds when sown during the typhoon season. Use of table beds is ideal for urban agriculture or for rooftop gardening. “Proper timing of application of vermi-compost to prevent being washed out by rains and proper timing of planting of cuttings to avoid stress on roots caused by frequent rainfall should also be noted,” she revealed.
Although Stevia plant originated from Paraguay, it is now being widely cultivated and used in other countries. As a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners, Stevia is being utilized as an ingredient in coffee, tea blends, and some health products. Leaf parts of stevia are about ten times sweeter than sugar. Only tiny amounts of purified steviol glycosides, the sweet compounds in stevia, are needed for food sweetening and drink preparations.
Through this BAR-funded project on Stevia, nursery production in plastic pots, table beds and in field conditions has been established. The plants are being grown in trays and pots in three screen houses and in fields in three areas located in Camarines Sur and Albay.
Farmer cooperators were already cited as part of the activities of the project. These farmer cooperators will then be provided with planting materials and will be trained on nursery production and on good agricultural practices. (Ma. Eloisa H. Aquino/DA-BAR)