Taki MaiTaki Mai

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

Helping Ovalau Kava Farmers After Winston

A new quality assurance initiative is being introduced on the Fijian island of Ovalau this week to help kava farmers there – and we’re proud to be behind it.

The system is designed to help generate increased profits and a steady income for kava farmers in the wake of Cyclone Winston which, as you know, severely impacted the kava industry across Fiji.

What is the Participant Guarantee System (PGS)?

The Participant Guarantee System (PGS) is an initiative originally designed by the Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) which is funded by the Australian government and coordinated by The University of Queensland.

Its overall aim is to create sustainable developments for South Pacific agribusiness, improving the livelihoods of South Pacific farmers and their families.

The PGS is a quality assurance initiative, whereby the farmers guarantee reliable and consistent quality and a regular supply of premium produce and, in return, the major buyers (such as resorts) guarantee to accept a certain quantity of the produce and to pay a good price for it.

The following video explains more about the PGS and how it’s helping all types of farmers around Fiji.

As you can see, the system wasn’t designed for kava farmers. It was originally piloted with 16 vegetable farmers near the capital, Suva, and will expand to other regions around Fiji.

The support it provides to smallholders, who traditionally have little market power, is encouraging farmers to produce higher quality and greater quantities of produce, because of the guaranteed market demand.

It is a win-win for the farmers and the businesses buying the vegetables and the success of the scheme has led to a similar initiative being set up for kava.

How does it work for Ovalau kava farmers?

Kava farmers on the island of Ovalau are smallholders. This is the island where South Pacific Elixirs has set up its Taki Mai operations and we have our nurseries and production facilities there. It’s also where I was born, so I have a keen interest in helping the island prosper.

Dr. Rob Erskine Smith, from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia (who can be seen in the above video above) received a small grant from the EU through the Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) program. This was designed to help the kava farmers on Ovalau with a structured rebuilding program after Winston, and to secure a more reliable supply chain.

South Pacific Elixirs has helped develop the initiative in terms of quality control input and together we are forming nine farmers’ groups on the island.

Kava farmers join up to become members of one of the nine groups, which function as individual companies. Each has a president, secretary and treasurer, with the company owned equally by members. Training is provided and profits are paid to members according to the produce they supply, while a small sum is retained for company operations such as cool room costs, transport, and marketing. Each company has more buying power for fertiliser and other essential supplies and this is another benefit of becoming a member.

As one of the main buyers of kava on the island, South Pacific Elixirs is proud to be throwing our weight behind the initiative and supporting the farmers there.

What are the benefits for the kava farmers?

As you see from the video, the PGS has a real impact on the lives of smallholder farmers around Fiji. As a coordinated group with consistent quality produce, they are able to attract premium prices, allowing for extra profits to be used to improve farms and households.

Rather than the profits going to market entrepreneurs (such as middle men) they end up in the farmers’ pockets.

The tomato farmers in the video were able to pipe water from the source to improve irrigation on their land, buy cattle, and build more solid houses. With a steadier income, they can afford to fund better education for their children.

The hope is that similar benefits will come to Ovalau kava farmers as a result of the system being put in place there.

By Zane Yoshida

Olympic Golds and Kava Bowls

It may have escaped your attention with all the excitement and ceremony of the Olympics in Rio back in August; but a small island nation won its first Olympic medals ever.

That nation was Fiji and we didn’t just win medals – we won golds!

As all Fijians are aware by now, our Sevens Rugby team did the nation proud by beating Great Britain in the final of the tournament to bring home gold for Fiji!

Fiji has sent athletes to the Olympics since Melbourne in 1956, but we had never previously won a medal. So if you’re reading this from the U.S., where your nation hauled home a massive 47 gold medals, spare a little ripple of applause for us!

Wild celebrations – over the kava bowl

The victory in the final sparked wild celebrations in Fiji; or as wild as things can get when the kava bowl is in play!

As you know, kava has a relaxing and calming effect, but these qualities were put to the test after the final, in which Fiji hammered Great Britain 43-7.

It certainly was a proud and emotional moment for all Fijians, as the 12 squad members received their gold medals from Princess Anne in the stadium in Rio.

As the medals were presented to the team, some people were surprised to see each Fijian player kneeling on the podium, and clapping three times out of respect for the Princess. This is a gesture normally reserved for a kava ceremony, when it is traditional for Fijians to clap three times after drinking a shell of kava, as a sign of respect.

In the national stadium in Suva, thousands of Fijians gathered to watch the historic match and to cheer the boys on from the other side of the Pacific.

And how did Fijians celebrate the win?

According to Maori Television, the kava was flowing  for former Fijian rugby captain Deacon Manu and many Fijians alike:

“The communities all around the world, the Fijian communities that I’ve touched base with, many around the world, and they’re all in full party mode and the kava is flowing like water at the moment to celebrate the victory.”

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama congratulated the team too, saying,

“A wonderful reception awaits our boys when they arrive back in Fiji. Never before has the Fijian spirit soared so high as it does today. Never have we stood so tall as a nation. So let us rededicate ourselves to the task of building our beloved Fiji. One nation, one people, playing an even greater role in the region and the world.”

Well done Fiji. We’re proud of you!

By Zane Yoshida

Is There Enough To Go Round – As Kava Demand Grows?

As Fiji recovers from the effects of Cyclone Winston, and local Fijians face a shortage of their beloved root, increasing kava demand from overseas is putting extra pressure on the kava market.

It’s been well reported that farmers were forced to harvest early on some of the major kava producing islands in Fiji; this has led to price increases and shortages of kava a few months down the line.

It’s not just Fiji feeling the strain, either. A recent severe drought destroyed many plantations in nearby Vanuatu.

This has wide-reaching implications, not just on quantity – but also on quality. Pacific nation governments are currently on a drive to educate farmers in the region about the importance of quality, both for domestic and export markets, so any downturn in quality due to the shortages will not be welcome.

Meeting local and international kava demand

In truth, the governments know how important kava is to the local economy, so every effort will be taken to maintain its quality.

Fiji earned $20.9 million from kava exports between 2012 and 2014, and this is on the increase; exports to the US alone are expected to reach $15 within the next 12 months.

There have been many challenges to the kava industry in recent years – not only from climactic effects on crops, but kava bans too. So the present shortage is just one more hurdle to pass. The renewed focus on ‘noble’ kava varieties will help to safeguard the all-important future of the industry.

Kava is gaining popularity in the west for both its medicinal properties (anti-anxiety, especially) and as a healthier alternative to alcohol.

In the United States, there are already over 100 kava bars. Increasingly, these have been opening in major urban centres like New York and Chicago, instead of the traditional kava bar beach communities of California and Florida.

In New Zealand, a country with a population of only 4.5 million, it is estimated that 20-25,000 people drink kava on a Friday or Saturday night.

Kava is a slow-growing crop and can take five years for its roots to mature. There are no short-term solutions to meeting increasing demand. But, by maintaining quality now, the growing worldwide reputation of kava will only increase in years to come – and that’s what really matters.

That’s why we have invested our own time and efforts into growing elite kava varieties in our nurseries on Ovalau Island in Fiji. This represents the future of Taki Mai shots, capsules, and instant kava!

By Zane Yoshida

The Ever-Present Kava Bowl: From Politics to Rugby to Surf

Whenever and wherever there is an important event or an esteemed guest arriving in Fiji, a kava bowl won’t be far away. And the more important the guest the larger the kava ceremony.

In the past few weeks, there have been several important events and visitors to the country – and all have received the ‘kava treatment’.

A kava comment causes a stir

First there was the opening of the 2016 World Surf League Fiji Pro tournament in Namotu, Tuvarua. The close relationship between kava and surfing is something that I wrote about previously in this post.

Then the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, recently took up an offer from the Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, to visit Fiji.

He was welcomed in Suva by a 100-strong Guard of Honour and a traditional welcoming ceremony, where he drank kava and was represented with a traditional whale’s tooth.

His visit represented the first visit by a New Zealand Prime Minister in the past decade. Despite having their differences in the past, everything was as cordial as expected around the kava bowl. But all eyes were on the Key’s reaction to the kava…

On a previous visit to the South Pacific in 2010, Keys described the taste of kava as a mixture of muddy water and liniment and then, in answer to the question about what he thought of kava from Vanuata, he replied with the following (to every Fijian’s dismay):

“At the risk of offending them, slightly better than the Fijian kava, and on a par with Samoa.”

Fijian kava is known for its high quality, so this comment caused widespread raising of eyebrows around the Fijian islands, and probably didn’t endear Key to the majority of Fijians.

It was good to see that, though he may not be a kava lover, he still downed a shell from the kava bowl on this visit – as you can see by the picture. But he kept his thoughts on the taste of kava private this time!

Rugby balls and kava bowls

Bill Beaumont, the incoming chairman of World Rugby, was also in town for a committee meeting – the first ever in Fiji, since the World Rugby body was established in 1886!

Beaumont met with the Fijian Prime Minister at the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa and was treated, of course, to a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony around the kava bowl.

As you can see just from the past few weeks, the kava bowl is an ever-present fixture in Fiji – from the halls of government, to the rugby field and out on the sea!

Have you had your shot of kava today?

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Are You Trendy Enough For Kava?
Helping Ovalau Kava Farmers After Winston
Olympic Golds and Kava Bowls
Is There Enough To Go Round – As Kava Demand Grows?
The Ever-Present Kava Bowl: From Politics to Rugby to Surf