Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

Fiji Kava Manual: The Way Ahead for the Kava Industry

The regional kava industry has been through some tough times but things are looking up in Fiji and beyond. The Fiji Kava Manual is an initiative to spread the word about high-quality kava farming practices that will help protect the industry well into the future…

After losing an estimated one hundred and thirteen million dollars due to Tropical Cyclone Winston last year, the kava industry in Fiji is at the start of a slow recovery process.  New plants will take a few years to mature, so supplies are not likely to reach pre-Winston levels for some time.

However, the National Fijian Quality Standard for kava was developed to set minimum standards for kava exports; and recent initiatives between the Pacific Community, government, and industry stakeholders are looking to ensure that the good name of kava is protected into the foreseeable future.

I was especially proud to attend the Kava National Training Workshop in Suva recently; this was a ‘train the trainer’ workshop aimed at demonstrating how farmers in each region of the country can improve the quality and standard of the kava they grow.

It was led by the Pacific Agriculture Policy Project Team Leader, Vili Caniogo, who said that it was important to familiarise trainers with the new Fiji Kava Manual. This will help provide awareness of the minimum standards of kava crop varieties.

Fiji National Yaqona Association president, Kini Salabogi, noted that the farmers themselves were usually left out of the training and development of kava farms. The theory is often not carried out in practice on the farms, so the new training and kava manual initiatives hope to address that problem.

Fiji is considered to be ‘lucky’ in that the 13 varieties of kava grown on the islands are all safe to consume. In Vanuatu, however, there are some sub-standard varieties considered unsafe to drink.

A statement released by the Yaqona taskforce (pictured above) overseeing these recent developments in the Fijian kava industry said:

“Much is known about how the kava export industry was plagued by health and product safety concerns in the past, particularly in the mid-late nineties. An underlying threat to these concerns was the lack of quality standards, lack of testing and traceability as well as awareness as to what kava varieties were being exported and consumed.”

“This is a solid platform for kava farmers in Fiji and more assistance is required to ensure that this effort is built on and sustained.”

It is hoped that, by the end of this year, all kava farmers across Fiji are using the new quality standards of planting, handling, processing and testing of kava products.


By Zane Yoshida

Are You Trendy Enough For Kava?

We’re proud to report that Taki Mai made its way into a feature story in the New York Times last week – our first appearance in a major U.S. newspaper.

Under the title Counting on the Trendy to Revive Kava, a Traditional Drink, freelance journalist Serena Solomon talks about the modernization of kava and how governments and others are working to revive the industry by helping kava appeal to a younger, western audience.

Kava has been featured on many regional U.S. news sites in the past few years, due mainly to the increasing numbers of kava bars opening up across the country. But this article is the first to our knowledge to specifically look at the direction of the industry as a whole.

The article is quick to reference the “wave of trendy bars in places like Brooklyn and Berkeley, Calif,” and mentions that there are around 100 kava bars now open across the country – three times the amount open five years ago.

Solomon points out that the journey for kava starts with hard work. She highlights one particular farmer on the island of Ovalau, in Fiji, who now grows kava for Taki Mai rather than drying and processing it himself in the traditional way.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Ovalau is where we grow, source, and process all of the kava that ends up in Taki Mai shots, instant kava, and our kava tablet supplements.

The article goes on to talk about the “mellow buzz” that people get from kava, its “bitter, chalky taste”, the effects of Cyclone Winston on the local kava industry, and how the industry has suffered for years due to inconsistencies in standards.

It then goes on to say how “governments, not-for-profits and a new group of entrepreneurs” are addressing these problems. That’s where Taki Mai comes in: we are mentioned as the company that “wants to do with kava what others have done for exotic coffee”, by helping to raise standards across the board and maintain high quality for export.

You can read the full article here, and find out how working with Taki Mai has changed the fortunes of one particular  farmer on Ovalau.

We hope to be helping many more in the future – and coverage in the New York Times certainly helps with that goal.

By Zane Yoshida

‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards

A recent dispute about ‘tainted’ kava exports from Vanuatu has highlighted the need for developing regional kava standards and for focusing on the development of elite forms of kava.

As regular readers of this blog will know, these are two initiatives that South Pacific Elixirs has been backing in the past 12-24 months; indeed, they are very important to the future of the Fijian kava industry and to our own business.

So what is all the fuss about?

Vanuatu company accused of exporting ‘tainted’ kava

As covered in the South Pacific regional press last month, a kava exporting company in Vanuatu was accused by an American importer of sending almost 60 tons of non-noble, inferior quality, tainted kava to the U.S., via New Zealand.

‘Tudei’ or ‘Two-day’ kava is a stronger, less consistent variety of kava. In this case, it was claimed that it was contaminated with kava leaf and stalk, whereas traditional, safe kava only contains the root extract.

Garry Stoner, founder of Pure Kava in the U.S., lodged the complaint. This included a chemical analysis supposedly derived from a 2015 test of retail kava powder provided by a Vanuatu-based supplier that showed ‘aerial matter’ and ‘chloropyll (from leaves).

The damaging complaint was made to Dr Mathias Schmidt in Germany, who alerted the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy.  They have both been instrumental in defending the reputation of Pacific kava-producing countries’ exports in Europe, since the kava ban in 2001.

The Sarami Plantation at the centre of the dispute is owned by Peter Colmar, who initially caught the sharp end of the tongue from the Minister of Agriculture in Vanuatu, who said:

 “I strongly recommend that the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board (VCMB) terminate his export licence forthwith”.

Ambassador Joy even implied that Vanuatu customs officials must have been complicit to allow non-noble kava to leave the country:

“I am lost for words but can only compel the way and the easy manner by which the ‘Sarami Plantation’ has continued to effectively trade its kava shipment against all odds and without any sense of regularity control or SPS from our authorities.”

In response, all kava growers and exporters have been given until the end of February to comply with the new Kava Export Standard in Vanuatu. They must clean up operations and cease the sale or export of ‘two-day’ or ‘adulterated’ kava, or face being blacklisted.

The Sarami Plantation owner hits back

The owner of the Sarami Plantation, however, has hit back at claims that he is exporting tainted kava. Peter Colmar has submitted scientific analysis of his kava exports, showing no ‘tainting’ or ‘adulteration’ of kava materials, no evidence of ‘two-day’ varieties, and demonstrating that the kava he provided to American suppliers is, in fact, ‘noble’.

He asserts that the complaints leveled against him are either false or historical – dating from 5-7 years ago.

Further follow-up has caused the Minister of Agriculture in Vanuatu to revise his initial assessment:

“I am not a scientist to evaluate the results provided. However, my position as minister for MALFFB, if the exported kava is of good quality then there is no need for VCMB to cancel his/her licence.”

Furthermore, the Daily Post issued an apology to Colmar for running its initial story and reported the following:

“ Colmar is a supplier with a sterling reputation, whose products test “clean” on a consistent and regular basis. Any suggestion that his operation is not operating to a high standard is not supported by the evidence now in our possession.”

Developing kava standards that everybody abides by

However this case ends, and it may well be that the Sarami Plantation clears its name, the episode demonstrates the need for laws to be updated as soon as possible, adequately enforced, and for kava export standards to be upped and maintained across the region.

Tainting kava’s name does not just harm the reputation of one company or one island nation; it damages the kava industry as a whole, putting the livelihoods of the many people who work in it in danger.

By Zane Yoshida

Could Kava be a Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer?

Among kava’s many medicinal properties it has long been suspected that it helps protect against cancer.

In particular, there is a low incidence of colon cancer in the South Pacific island nations of Fiji, West Samoa, and Vanuatu, despite relatively high rates of smoking.

Now this connection is a step closer to being proven. New research out of the U.S. has found that traditionally prepared kava could help treat or prevent the growth of cancer cells. That’s big news for the industry!

Kava’s many health benefits

Although kava’s stress relieving and anti-anxiety properties have been demonstrated in modern clinical tests, many of the other suspected health benefits of kava that have been passed down through the generations in the Pacific island nations remain the stuff of folklore and debate.

It’s fair to say that the medical establishment often scoffs at the reputed health benefits not only of kava but many herbal medicines that have not undergone rigid (and expensive) clinical trials. There is a big industry to protect, after all.

But the latest kava research by scientists from the New York Botanical Garden, The City University of New York, and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, is showing great promise with the value of kava in the battle against cancer…

The findings of the latest kava study

In the study, which was published in the Phytomedicine journal, a group of scientists set out to demonstrate that traditionally prepared kava inhibits the growth of cancer cells.

‘Traditionally prepared’ kava is where the roots are extracted using cold water and strained through hibiscus bark. The study focused on the growth inhibitory activity of such a preparation on colon and breast cancer cells.

The following results were found:

“Traditional preparations of kava inhibit the growth of breast and colon cancer cells. Among the kava preparations, the order of decreasing activity was Fiji(2), Fiji(1), Hawaii; the unfiltered preparations from Fiji were more active than the filtered. Phytochemical analysis indicated that filtering reduced most kavalactone and chalcone content.

And the following was the conclusion:

“Our results show that traditional kava, alone or combined with sea hibiscus, displays activity against human cancer cells and indicate it will be worthwhile to develop and further analyze these preparations to prevent and treat colon and other cancers.”

Great news for Fijian Kava!

This is only one study but, despite the limitations, it appears to be great news for the kava industry in general and, in particular, for unfiltered, traditionally prepared Fijian kava. This was the most effective kava in fighting cancer cells.

This is how the people of Fiji have traditionally consumed their kava, rather than in the less active filtered format that is found in many kava products sold around the world.

The great work needs to be continued so that the whole world learns of the kava’s health benefits – not just as a ‘chill out’ drink when you holiday in Fiji or Vanuatu, but in the fight against one of the world’s most devastating diseases.

By Zane Yoshida

Big 2017 Predicted for the Kava Industry

It’s not just us at Taki Mai who are predicting good things for the kava industry in the year ahead.

We said it a lot in 2016: despite the devastation of Cyclone Winston, the kava industry is heading in the right direction, getting its ‘house’ in order and starting to take the right measures to protect the industry for the longer term, as demand increases overseas.

Now one of the major authorities in the retail food trade is saying it too…

The Shelby Report: Whole Foods Market 2017 Trends Forecast

The Shelby Report is one of the foremost voices in the retail food industry in the US and is distributed nationwide, with five monthly regional print and digital editions. It is an educational resource targeted at everyone from manufacturers and wholesalers to independent and chain stores.

And this giant of the industry just released its Whole Foods Market Trends Forecast for 2017. This is compiled by the Whole Foods Market’s global buyers and experts and includes everything from trends in wellness beverages through to condiments and particular food colours that are going to be popular.

We’re delighted to see that, alongside the likes of coconut and Japanese condiments, kava got a big mention as one of the products to watch in 2017.

Here’s what the report said about the rising popularity of wellness toniocs:

Wellness Tonics: The new year will usher in a new wave of tonics, tinctures and wellness drinks that go far beyond the fresh-pressed juice craze. The year’s hottest picks will draw on beneficial botanicals and have roots in alternative medicine and global traditions.

Buzzed-about ingredients include kava, Tulsi/holy basil, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, medicinal mushrooms (like reishi and chaga) and adaptogenic herbs (maca and ashwagandha). Kor Organic Raw Shots, Suja Drinking Vinegars and Temple Turmeric Elixirs are just a few products leading the trend.

There it is in black and white: kava is a “buzzed-about ingredient”.

No argument from us… let’s keep the buzz going and make 2017 a huge one for the kava industry and Taki Mai.

Happy New Year to all our readers…have a relaxing, stress-free 2017 full of all the good things.

Kava shot anyone?

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Fiji Kava Manual: The Way Ahead for the Kava Industry
Are You Trendy Enough For Kava?
‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards
Could Kava be a Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer?
Big 2017 Predicted for the Kava Industry