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.