Turkish state-owned tea producer Çaykur pulls plug on stevia project

Turkish state-owned tea producer Çaykur has cancelled plans to produce stevia for sweeteners citing the plant’s incompatibility with regional conditions, Artı Gerçek news site reported on Monday.

The company in 2017 teamed up with Chinese partners to establish a 16 million lira ($2.7 million) factory in the northern province of Rize to process and produce the popular sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.

But plans for stevia production have come to a grinding halt as trial harvests have proven unsuccessful, Artı Gerçek said.

Stevia was first brought from South America in 2012 with trial plants harvested in northeastern Turkey's tea-capital Rize province.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a native of the province, had named Stevia “Rize’s sugar,’’ in a nod of approval to the project.

However, the report on Çaykur’s plans to pull the plug on its stevia project was no surprise, Artı Gerçek said. 

The Turkish Court of Accounts in a report it published in 2018 called investment in the plant an “irrational’’ move, adding that stevia harvested in Turkey was not suitable for manufacturing sweeteners.

“Stevia was not accepted by producers. We distributed stevia to 46 producers, but they said the stevia plant had either rotted or they could not tend to it,’’ Çaykur deputy general director Yusuf Ziya had said in July 2018. 

“Our producers have gotten used to ease. But we hope they will accept stevia, we are providing them with support,’’ Alim had said.