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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

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

Kava in 2016: Higher Demand, Higher Quality

Kava looks set for a happy 2016, if recent trends continue.

With more kava bars opening in the US, European markets opening up, kava becoming available in more health stores and supermarkets worldwide, and more awareness of its relaxation and health benefits, the profile of kava is on the rise.

We can look forward to increasing demand and increasing quality in the year ahead.

Higher demand for kava in 2016?

The Fijian Secretary for Agriculture visited the US towards the end of last year and, on his return, challenged farmers around the country to work hard to meet the increasing demand for kava.

Clearly recognising a big opportunity from what he saw, he said:

“We should be thankful because this are opportunities for our farmers here in Fiji on how we can meet this particular demand in the US markets so the bottom line is farmers to get organized and produce the product that is required in whichever markets”

Fiji News recently reported that we should “expect a boom in kava exports” noting that “kava exports are expected to increase significantly with the European Market opening up from 2016.”

The Ministry of Agriculture is now preparing the first draft of a Kava Bill that will guide the sale of kava in Fiji, incorporating suggestions for how Fiji will be best placed to meet the increased demand.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Sun recently reported on plans for a proposed, new $25 million project on the island of Vanua Levu. The two-storey factory will employ the entire ground floor for kava and spice processing.

Higher quality of kava in 2016?

Of course, while Taki Mai uses exclusively Fijian kava, famed for its high quality, kava is grown and used all around the Pacific area. Vanuatu is one of the biggest producers and there has been plenty of positive comment about the expected growth in kava exports there too.

In the past, however, there have been concerns about the quality of kava produced there – including potent strains known as ‘wild kava’ and ‘two day’ kava because the effects last up to 48 hours (which is produced even though it is banned). Only around 10 out of 80 strains grown there have been declared suitable for export.

Calls are growing for more responsibility among farmers there to comply with regulations and plant only ‘noble’ varieties of kava that are processed correctly before export.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation in Vanuatu has been trying to raise awareness of these issues with recent training initiatives:

“Kava is an important commodity both locally and to the external market. It is important that the farmers know more about their own kava because now we have a kava act, and the kava act actually pushes the nobles and that is where the quality standards must be reflected in the kind of product that goes to the market.”

In tandem with this, the European Union-Africa Caribbean Pacific (EU/ACP) project was initiated last year by the Vanuatu Embassy in Brussels to produce a definition of regional quality standards for kava.

This is good news in light of the past problems kava has had with regional bans, and will help to uphold the reputation of kava internationally.

Ambassador Roy Mickey Joy commented:

“Evidence shows that some products marketed as kava cannot be considered as such in light of the traditional experience. Accordingly, the decision to accelerate the ongoing definition of quality standards by kava-producing countries could not have come at a better time.”

A regional boost in 2016?

The export of quality kava is essential not only to the Vanuatu government, but to farmers around the whole Pacific region.

Fiji and Vanuatu are the two largest producing countries, with approximately 25,000 ha cultivated, producing an estimated 10,000 tonnes of kava – with around 1,100 tonnes exported every year.

A damaged kava reputation harms the economies of all producing countries and badly affects rural communities, no matter where the kava originates. The focus on guarding the quality is well-founded.

In Fiji, South Pacific Elixirs are doing our bit for quality.

At our kava nurseries in Ovalau, we cultivate only ‘elite’ kava cultivars that produce the finest quality root ready for export. These are guaranteed disease-free strains that produce consistent and predictable varieties of kava, ideal for making our shots, powders, and capsules for the export market.

By Zane Yoshida

US Market for Fijian Kava Set to Grow

Fijian kava exports to the USA are set to grow and potentially earn the country $15 million, according to Acting Permanent Secretary for Agriculture in Fiji, Uraia Waibuta.

Fiji earned $20.9 million from kava exports between 2012 to 2014, so the U.S. market is a key contributor.

Mr. Waibuta, who is currently on a market scoping mission in the U.S, said that around 10 tonnes of kava is exported to the US per year and the potential is there for this to double.

Fiji currently produces around 4000 tonnes of kava from a total area of 1300 hectares and it will need to increase in order to meet growing worldwide demand for kava.

As well as visiting Northern California’s first kava bar for a taste of kava with an American-style twist, Mr. Waibuta met key kava importers in California.

Maintaining Fijian kava quality

“The Ministry of Agriculture will increase its efforts to support the Kava industry,” Mr Waibuta said, adding that kava nurseries would be established in key areas in Fiji. This will ensure that farmers can access good quality planting materials and maintain the quality standard demanded by the market.

The Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) is an Australian and New Zealand government funded programme to assist with the development of the Fiji Yaqona (Kava) Quality Manual.

The main aim is to help farmers and exporters identify the 13 ‘noble’ kava varieties in Fiji, areas in which these Kava varieties are cultivated, and also to run laboratory tests on the varieties with the best kavalactone level.

Within Fiji, public awareness campaigns about production, processing and a national kava standard based on food safety are going a long way to raising kava quality, which is key to maintaining growth in exports.

All kava entering the U.S. needs to meet strict safety regulations, requiring clearance by the Food & Drugs Administration (FDA), with analysis of its chemical compositions and kavalactone levels.

Taki Mai is proud to be doing its bit…

South Pacific Elixirs is on the frontline of maintaining kava quality, as our previous blog post about elite kava pointed out.

In order to ensure consistency in supply and quality of raw kava we are working with 70 contracted farmers in Lovoni, on the island of Ovalau, where all our kava originates.

We are also doing our bit to help the Fijian kava export market grow, with Taki Mai kava shots in four different flavors marketed through major supermarkets in the United States.

The shots are sold as sports drinks to calm, soothe, and relax of the body.

Company President James Tonkin pointed out that North American consumers are aware of the Taki Mai product and sales are beginning to grow in the U.S. It is sold in more than 50 outlets around the country, including pharmaceutical and department stores.

Taki Mai products will be promoted in major outlets and food shows in March 2016, with further product demos to raise awareness – so keep your eyes peeled for one near you!

By Zane Yoshida

Kava Usage in Fiji is Rising – Along With Its Stock

Its reputation has taken some unnecessary blows in the past decade or so but kava usage is on the increase in Fiji and worldwide – and its profile is on the up.

Increasing kava usage and demand

A recent report in the Fijian Times referred to a National Nutrition Survey, which is conducted every ten years in the country. It said that the number of males who drink kava increased from 55.7% in 1993 to 63.9 per cent in 2004; and from 15.7 per cent of females in 1993 to 31.2 per cent in 2004.

While these figures already sound dated, it points to a growing trend in Fiji of more locals drinking the hallowed beverage – with an especially sharp rise in women drinking it, perhaps due to cultural taboos being challenged more. Almost 70 percent of Fijians who drink kava do so on two to six days in a week.

Worldwide demand is also increasing with Fijian government urging kava farmers in the north of the country to increase their yield to meet the demand from the export markets.

With the European ban lifted some time ago and more kava supplements like Taki Mai shots, powder and capsules reaching the markets of America, Europe, and Asia, export demand is expected to continue to grow in coming years.

The principal agricultural officer for the Northern region said that kava farmers should increase production as there has been a shortage in the supply to the export market for years.

‘Feelgood’ kava stories

Along with the increasing demand we are seeing more positive stories about kava again in the worldwide media.

The New Zealand Herald recently reported on a study at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), which found that regular attendance at kava clubs helps keep young males of Tongan ethnicity away from the dangers of drugs, alcohol and gangs:

“The AUT study analysed the kava club attendance of New Zealand-born Tongans aged between 16 and 30. It revealed that participation in these clubs helped foster a strong sense of cultural identity and diverted young Tongan males from drug and alcohol abuse, and youth gang participation.”

Kava clubs have been a feature of the country since large numbers of Tongans started migrating to New Zealand and looking to resume affiliations with their Tongan village of origin.

In much the same way as kava is part of the fabric of Fijian culture, many South Pacific islanders who migrate and have families in their new countries take this important part of their culture with them.

Along with the kava drinking comes singing, storytelling, and discussions on a large range of subjects, where people learn, gather wisdom, and form an identity. This is as important for second generation islanders as it is for those who originally moved to the country.

Stories like this in the New Zealand Herald are a good sign that kava stock is rising and it is again taking its rightful place as a valuable ingredient in bringing communities together in a healthy and positive way.

‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards
Is There Enough To Go Round – As Kava Demand Grows?
Kava in 2016: Higher Demand, Higher Quality
US Market for Fijian Kava Set to Grow
Kava Usage in Fiji is Rising – Along With Its Stock