Rajpal Singh Gandhi purchased 40 acres of cultivable land and tried growing different vegetables on it.

When his attempts failed, the income tax consultant from Banga, Punjab, decided to try stevia cultivation in 2008.

During his research into the natural sweetener, he realised its importance years before it became a go-to alternative to sugar in India.

He found a case study, which stated that 70 percent of the Japanese population had shifted to stevia as a sweetener.

“Japan has very little cultivable land, so they import the dry leaves. I was surprised to see that kind of demand abroad, including in countries like Germany, Belgium and Sweden,” he says.

The first generation agriprenuer wanted to set an example that investing in cultivable land could be profitable. So he channelised all his resources, money and time to grow the crop, and then set up a processing unit.

After many rejections and years of research, he got IIT Mumbai to build a unit and identify four varieties of stevia plants that he claims are “300 times sweeter than sugar”.

“We got our unit and R&D lab approved and certified by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR),” adds Rajpal.

His processing plant in the Kandi (sub-mountainous) area on the foothills of the Shivalik processes close to five tonnes of leaves every day.

Under the brand Green Valley Stevia, he sells stevia leaves, powder and other value added products — such as tabletop sweetener, ‘cheeni kum’ and herbal infusions — to companies and directly to individual customers.

When he was unable to find a domestic market, Rajpal approached international companies and found a breakthrough in Canada and Germany.

Rajpal has also popularised stevia domestically and created a demand for the sweetener.

He motivated farmers to grow stevia with a buyback offer and financial returns, and offered to purchase all the farmers’ produce and eliminate the issue of finding the right markets.

He says that while wheat or paddy have to be planted every year, stevia can be harvested every three months for five years and gives up to 15 harvests.

It also  generates four times the income compared to paddy, and uses only 5% of water used for sugarcane cultivation.

“It takes 1,500 litres of water to make one kilo of processed sugar and 75 litres for stevia. Farmers in drought-spell regions can take advantage of this,” he adds.

Rajpal has won many accolades, like the Agribusiness Award by the Indian Food and Agriculture Council (2018), Parman Patra by the State Government (2014, 2015), and National Farming Leadership award by Dr M S Swaminathan.