The First Stevia Farm in the Philippines
Team Out of Town Blog Hub (Outoftownblog.com) – It is not every day that we come across a company that ushers in advocacy and employee empowerment first and foremost in their corporate mission. Such is the example being set upon by Glorious Industrial and Development Corporation – GIDC, The Stevia Company. Earning the distinction as the country’s first stevia grower and manufacturer, GIDC produces and markets the Sweet and Fit Stevia, the first stevia herbal dietary supplement introduced in the Philippines that was registered by the Food and Drug Administration, as its main weapon against diabetes. Grown and harvested locally in the Philippines by GIDC, Sweet and Fit Stevia has no cholesterol, no calories, no carbohydrates, and zero glycemic index.
When asked about the importance of their Stevia produce and their products that use it as the main component, Maura De Leon, the woman behind GIDC said “Stevia has been touted as a safe and healthy sugar substitute with proven health benefits. It can sweeten foods, and it has several health benefits, including decreased calorie intake, lower blood sugar levels, and less risk of cavities,”
Why Battle Diabetes
Filipinos are known to have a sweet tooth. That and aside from the fact that most of us lives by the credo of “rice is life”. Unfortunately, the combination of having a sweet tooth and our fondness of eating rice also increases our chances of developing diabetes — to the point that it has become one of the leading causes of death in the Philippines.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a study recently that reveals 422 million people have diabetes worldwide, the majority of whom reside in low- and middle-income countries. Diabetic-related deaths account for 1.5 million deaths per year. The number of cases and prevalence of diabetes have steadily increased over the past few decades.
Based on the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, an annual increase of 7.8% was recorded among Filipinos in 2020. If recent trends on diabetes continue, more and more Filipinos will be affected by the disease.
In today’s market, Stevia is becoming increasingly popular as a sugar substitute as consumers seek healthier options.
“Stevia can replace the sugar used in baking, beverages, cooking, and almost anything, a natural alternative that can significantly cut the sugar in one’s diet,” shared Michelle De Leon, GIDC head of Operations.
Unbeknownst to most, Stevia is already an active ingredient in more than 5,000 food and beverage products around the world. It’s only a matter of time before consumers totally embrace the consumption of this healthy and natural sweetener. How to make it possible in the immediate future? Plant and grow more Stevia. And that’s what GIDC is doing right now.
Cultivating land for Stevia Farming in Bulacan
Founded in 2004, GIDC’s journey began in their Sweet and Fit Fam in Bocaue, Bulacan. They first started with a 2-hectare demonstration farm where they studied the many intricacies of planting and harvesting of the Stevia plant. It was a learning process that lasted several years until they mastered every bit of the plant’s agricultural cycle.
Today, the Sweet and Fit Farm has expanded to several stevia plantations in varying locations around Bulacan and has introduced other Stevia products that include no sugar added coffee and chocolate mixes. It recently introduced its zero sugar iced tea mixes in major supermarkets and groceries. Consumers who cut on sugar in their diet can now enjoy low-calorie, no sugar iced tea mixes, and beverages that are sweetened by natural alternatives. GIDC also offers tolling services, where customers or brands can explore having their own Stevia-based natural products.
Empowering Stevia Farmers
During our tour around Sweet and Fit Farm, we were shown the living quarters of the farmers where many of them live with their families. It turns out that GIDC also supports the education of the farmer’s daughters by giving them scholarship grants.
“Aside from providing a better working environment for our farmers, we also make sure that they are well taken care of in terms of their health needs by providing them with medical assistance”, Michelle De Leon tells us. “That is on top of the housing and scholarship for their children”, she adds.
Guilt-less Dessert Buffet
After our brief tour of the farm, we had our lunch at the event’s place at Karilagan Pavilion located within the property. Also located inside is the Karilagan Stevia Farm Cafe which serves their in-house “Heritage Menu”. It is a set of meal consisting of their version of some of Bulacan’s best hapag kainan offerings such as Napapanahong Ensalada, Sinabawan na Karaligan, Gulay ng Karilagan, Adobong Sitaw, Tinumis, Ensaladang Talong and more.
The café treated us to a guilt-less dessert buffet all naturally sweetened by Stevia. “We take pride in our offerings of zero-calorie deserts and sweetbreads”, said Rocky Espiridion, Karilagan Cafe’s manager.
The Pavilion place of Sweet and Fit farm can also host receptions for weddings and other occasions. Guests can even stay overnight at the Bahay na Bato beside the café. Other activities on the farm include Stevia leaves picking, Stevia factory tour, and even target shooting at the Delta Lions Shooting Range located inside the farm.
And yes. This writer attempted a Coco Martin’s Cardo Dalisay impression with the gun but found out that him and guns don’t pair well. What I found out after was, natural sweeteners like Stevia is the perfect complement to my lifestyle since I travel a lot trying out different cuisines. It is important to be aware of the risk of diabetes and watching out for my sugar intake is the first step toward fighting this sweet-induced disease — with the help of Stevia supplements of course.
Summarizing GIDC’s vision, one would conclude that they not only encourage healthy living through sustainable agriculture practice, they also want to send a message that it should be done with our farmers’ plight in mind.
“I highly encourage other entrepreneurs to also invest in agriculture. Why? Aside from the fact that there’s a growing demand for sustainable food, we are in an agricultural country and yet our farmers are the most neglected sector in our society. Let’s help them to improve the quality of their lives. My wish and prayer are to pass it on from generation to generation so that the Filipino farmers will be proud of who they are and what they do. Let us keep our Filipino pride alive by helping each other out. And hopefully, we will be able to grow local, go global.” Maura De Leon, GIDC president, and CEO said.
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Read: Top 15 Interesting Things To Do In Bulacan