Although stevia is now grown in many parts of the world today, the herb is native to South America. After being introduced to the naturally-sweet plant by a Peace Corps volunteer in 1982, James May traveled to Paraguay to learn everything he could about stevia.
To ensure a steady supply of premium stevia leaves for his products, Mr. May met directly with Paraguayan farmers and encouraged them to grow stevia that he would in turn buy. Providing farmers with an incentive to grow crops for legal commerce has, over the years, helped undermine the narcotics economy that has plagued that region for decades. Today, SweetLeaf® works with farmers in eleven different countries.
Growing these quality plants with sustainable agriculture methods is an extension of Mr. May’s commitment to supporting both the farmers and their families in the emerging economies of Latin America, and to the ecology of those lands.
As a result of his work with the native peoples, Mr. May was elected Honorary President of the Stevia Association of the Americas, a body of Latin American farmers, agronomists, processors and public officials involved in stevia production.
Mr. May has been applauded by government officials from various nations for his work in keeping the farmers growing stevia through the years when no other commercial interest was apparent. Through Mr. May’s influence, a number of native farmers have chosen to grow stevia rather than crops such as marijuana and coca for cocaine.