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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

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

What Is The Kava Bill – And How Does It Affect You?

In recent months you probably heard talk of a Kava Bill, if you’ve been following Fijian news at all.

Because of problems in recent years with European bans and in maintaining kava quality, calls have grown louder for measures to be introduced that help protect the key players in the industry, from the farmers through to the exporters.

When Cyclone Winston hit the country in February, the devastating consequences for many kava farmers in Fiji again reminded us of the fragile nature of the industry.

The Kava Bill is the Fijian government’s response to past problems and future opportunities. It had its first reading in the Fijian Parliament on 27th April 2016, and we take a closer look at it below.

What’s in the Kava Bill?

First and foremost the Kava Bill aims to:

establish the Fiji Kava Council for the purpose of the regulation and the management of the Kava Industry and its related matters.”

The Bill contains information about the functions and powers of the Fiji Kava Council, and details:

“a proper legal framework to establish the Council which will manage, administer and assist the growth of the kava industry”.

And it aims to:

“ensure that the trading of kava at domestic level and exported or imported at international level, will be done according to appropriate standards and procedures.”

Perhaps for the first time, this formally recognises kava as a key contributor to the Fijian economy and which requires adequate protection, as domestic and international demand increases. It also provides a formal platform for local kava farmers and exporters to voice problems and concerns.

While Fiji is a member of the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC), there is no legislation currently in place to manage the kava industry in the country; this understandably has many people in Fiji nervously looking over their shoulders.

A word from the president…

When the prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, opened the South Pacific Elixir factory on Ovalau island, he noted the following:

“Kava is one of our nation’s most cherished crops and Ovalau has long been known as one of Fiji’s premier kava-producing regions. Despite this, however, we have struggled over the years with exporting kava to overseas markets. Many of you will remember a few years ago when Europe’s demand for kava created a boom in the industry. Unfortunately, in the rush to take advantage of this windfall, little consideration was given to quality control. Leaves and stems were mixed with the roots and look what happened. There was no quality control. Governments must engender quality control and standards.”

So the Kava Bill is partly a response to this recognition that the Fijian kava industry is in a precarious position while it remains completely without regulation; it is very much a case of learning from past mistakes on that front.

Protection through quality

The future of the Fijian kava industry relies on protecting the high quality of its product. That’s behind the local Kava Bill and it’s also a regional consideration.

Recently, the WHO’s Regional Codex Committee met in Vanuatu to discuss the introduction of a kava standard, aimed at maintaining quality and preventing future damage to the reputation of kava.

This is an important step regionally; and the Kava Bill tackles the problem locally, by helping the industry focus on producing high quality, elite kava. This is the way forward, as it will protect everybody from the farmer to the consumer. That’s perhaps why nobody is seriously opposing the Kava Bill – except maybe a few of the ‘middlemen’ who currently profit from their monopolies over the farmers.

How are we involved?

South Pacific Elixirs is committed to working with local farmers on Ovalau, growing elite varieties of kava in our nurseries, and exporting the highest quality of kava overseas to new markets in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.

Our cultivation methods help to ensure disease-free, elite kava that delivers predictable and consistent properties. We hope that, by doing this, customers of Taki Mai always feel confident about the kava in their hands, and the reputation of Fiji’s kava farmers is also enhanced.

The Kava Bill will help us on all these fronts!

By Zane Yoshida

The Way Forward For Fijian Kava

After the trials faced by the Fijian kava industry in recent months, it was great to see one of our ‘elite’ kava saplings emerge from the lab this week.

Our previous post focused on the present kava shortages. The Fijian kava industry has been hit hard by the devastating cyclone back in March.

This one is all about the way forward for kava, and its bright future.

Rehabilitating the kava industry: an opportunity

As the Fijian kava industry rebuilds, there is an opportunity to establish itself firmly as the world leader in the production of high quality or ‘elite’ kava.

Already known for its high quality amongst Pacific kava-producing nations, steps are being taken to up the ante in quality in Fiji.

As reported in a previous post, South pacific Elixirs has been working with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) on an ‘elite kava’ project that has been co-funded by the Australian Government.

The project, called Development of a mass propagation system for elite varieties of Piper methysticum (kava), is now starting to bear fruit. The photo above, taken in the lab at the University of the South Pacific, is evidence of this.

The project set out to establish a rapid propagation system for clean planting material. Its over-arching aim was to provide world-leading kava quality and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Fiji.

New kava propagation methods

Traditionally, kava propagation uses the stem of the plant to make cuttings. This may increase the risk of disease being passed on from plant to plant.

The production of a disease-free, high quality kava is seen as vital to protecting the future of the kava industry. As exports rise and world attention increasingly focuses on kava as bans are lifted, the need to maintain the highest quality possible is in everybody’s interests.

The stated goal our project is:

“…to develop an efficient and effective propagation system for ensuring a sustained and uniform supply of quality planting material of the selected variety.”

High quality kava cultivars help to eliminate the problem of ‘Kava dieback’. This is a rapidly spreading black soft rot of the stem tissue. Symptoms appear on the leaves a few weeks before the visible rot starts, and it is a problem around the entire Pacific area.

Back in 2005, around 40% of the Fijian kava crop was wiped out. When problems arise, it’s a long way back for the kava industry, because kava does not produce seeds and it takes several years to grow.

When the problems are as severe as those experienced in the wake of Cyclone Winston, a lack of high quality stems available for propagation exacerbates the situation.

Our solution creates tissue cultures that maintain a constant supply of high quality, disease-free new kava plants:

“Once ‘clean’ kava plants are established in the nursery, the growth of axillary buds can be accelerated to produce material from which tissue cultures can be established.”

Since Winston then, the program has taken on new meaning as a way forward for the Fijian kava industry as a whole. We are in the process of training others in these propagation methods so that they can be used more in commercial nurseries.

It’s onwards and upwards for the Fijian kava industry from here- and we are proud to be part of the solution.

By Zane Yoshida

Fijian Kava Industry Suffering: Post-Winston Update

More information has emerged about the state of the Fijian kava industry since Cyclone Winston battered the islands in March of this year.

We covered this topic in a previous blog post, but an update is necessary. The kava industry, as expected, has been suffering, as much of the kava was harvested from damaged farms soon after the cyclone hit. The strong winds shook plants on many farms, resulting in root damage and causing the plants to wilt and die.

Now the predicted shortages have started to materialize and prices are hitting record highs in markets across the country.

On May 1st Fiji Times warned:

“YAQONA enthusiasts on Taveuni should expect an increase in yaqona prices soon as the last batches of the cash crop are being prepared for the market.”

(Note: Yaqona is the Fijian word for kava)

The same week the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reported:

“There is a substantial shortage of Kava in Fiji in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston. This has resulted in a drastic increase in the price of Kava.”

They quoted one farmer on the island as saying:

“Being a major contributor to the country’s yaqona market, I think that this will be the first time ever that the island will be running out of yaqona.”

Shortages on some islands mean that the kava needs to be brought in from other islands – making it even more expensive. At present 25-50% price increases are commonplace, but prices are expected to rise even more sharply in the coming months. In Suva (the capital of Fiji) prices have already more than doubled as kava supplies become scarcer.

This prompted the Fiji Sun Online to ask:

“Is Beer Cheaper Now Than Kava?”

Many of Fiji’s kava farmers know nothing else; they have been harvesting kava all their lives. Kava is a slow-growing crop with a growth cycle of several years, so the problem is not only present for this year, but for next year, the year after, and the year after.

What are these farmers supposed to do for an income until their new kava crops are ready to harvest in three years’ time? Once the dried stocks run out, that’s it.

Middleman and traders are trying to buy in bulk, and are controlling the price – but some farmers are reluctant to release all their stocks until the prices rise further. This makes life especially hard for smaller vendors and trader, as well as farmers.

It is estimated that it could take anywhere from 3-6 years for the Fijian kava supply to become stable again and for prices to drop back to normal levels. Meanwhile, imports of lower quality kava from Vanuatu are likely to rise, and officials are considering ways of expediting the revival of the local industry.

In the next post we look at how Taki Mai is doing our bit to help rejuvenate the kava industry in Fiji.

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Fiji Kava Manual: The Way Ahead for the Kava Industry
Could Kava be a Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer?
What Is The Kava Bill – And How Does It Affect You?
The Way Forward For Fijian Kava
Fijian Kava Industry Suffering: Post-Winston Update