Taki MaiTaki Mai

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

Milestone Reached In Creating A Regional Kava Standard

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) Codex meeting in Vanuatu was another step in creating a regional kava standard, which has been a decade in the making.

In recent years, the need for this standard has grown. Protecting the industry against further bans and restrictions is key to the economic prosperity of kava farmers, processors, and exporters, as well as the economies of the South Pacific producing nations.

With kava playing such a critical role in the domestic and regional economies, as well as in the social and cultural values throughout the Pacific, it is clear that such protective measures are necessary. The fragility of the industry in Fiji was recently exposed again by Cyclone Winston.

What is the Codex Alimentarius?

The purpose behind the recent meeting of the Codex Coordinating Committee for North America and the South-West Pacific, which was held from 19-22 September in Port Vila,, was to address this need for an a kava standard.

In attendance were representatives from Australia, Canada, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Samoa, Solomon Islands, United States, and Vanuatu. This alone indicates its importance to the entire region.

The Codex Alimentarius (sometimes called ‘food code’) was established as an initiative by the WHO in 1963, and is now thought to cover around 99 percent of the world’s population. It is essentially a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations relating to foods, food production, and food safety.

These guidelines facilitate the movement of food and beverage items safely from their place of production all around the world.

Bringing kava into line with this is seen as a critical step to avoid the types of problems that kava has experienced in the past, with European bans and concerns over potential hepatotoxicity.

South Pacific Elixirs in attendance

I was proud to be a part of the Fijian delegation for this meeting; I believe this initiative will pave the way for kava to be internationally recognised as safe for human consumption, both under the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Codex Alimentarius.

The presence of experts able to advise on nutritional safety standards from the WHO and FAO was a sure sign that kava is well on the way to taking its rightful place alongside other established foods and beverages. Australia and New Zealand have already developed standards for kava and were able to offer clear guidelines about what is needed for kava.

Agreed trade and food standards for kava will be good for kava farmers, good for Fiji and other producing nations, good for consumers, and good for Taki Mai. What’s not to like?

What happens next?

The discussion paper for a regional standard for kava was endorsed at the meeting, and it is expected that the endorsement will be submitted to the Codex commission in Rome (the supreme body) for approval in 2017.

If that is accepted, then the kava industry at large can start work on developing a draft kava standard.

By Zane Yoshida

What Factors Affect Kava Quality?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about kava quality. With the lifting of the European ban Pacific nations are more committed than ever to maintaining a high standard of kava for export.

There is considerable vested interest in this too – for the economies of the Pacific nations and the livelihoods of the kava farmers in those nations.

So why the need for kava standards- and what actually affects the quality?

Kava variations

Kava has always varied in quality and farmers have always identified different strains, based on its physical appearance, the brew produced from its roots, and the physical and psychological effects produced by its consumption.

The biggest factor in quality is in the strength and predictability of the kavalactones present in kava, rather than in the physical appearance, which may only differ slightly.

In Vanuatu alone there are an estimated 80 varieties of kava, and Fiji has many other varieties. These are the two largest producing nations in the Pacific.

Kava varieties can be broken down into three basic types:

  • Noble kava
  • ‘Two-days’ kava
  • Wild kavas

In its most basic definition, noble kava is high standard, cultivated kava that can be exported in root or supplement form. It is free from toxins and impurities.

‘Two-days’ kava is a particularly potent strain that is actually prohibited for international export, but which often makes its way onto the market. This can damage the reputation of kava as it may cause nausea and other unpleasant side effects. It is so-called because the effects can last for up to 48 hours.

Wild kava is another inferior type grown in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

What factors affect kava quality?

The overall quality of kava you enjoy in your beverages, shots, capsules, or powder form depends on several factors:

  • The variety
  • The age of the plant (usually should be harvested after 3-5 years of growth)
  • The part of the plant used (roots, stumps, or basal stems)
  • The way it is cultivated (organic or not? Soil fertility and sunshine hours?)
  • The geographic origin

This will all affect the appearance, consistency and, most importantly, the kavalactone content of the kava.

The ‘chemotype’ of the kava describes its chemical make-up and will help you understand more about the kavalactones present in the variety that you take.

As you sit back and relax with a Taki Mai kava shot, you are probably not thinking too much about what’s in that little 3oz shot. You are likely just enjoying the relaxing feeling wash over you.

But its consistent calming effect is because you are enjoying elite kava of the highest quality – and now you know a little more about the factors that make it so.

By Zane Yoshida

International Kava Conference Planned for March

There was more evidence of the global rise in the profile of kava recently when an International Kava Conference was announced for March this year.

This will bring together policy makers, regulators, administrators, kava farmers, exporters and others involved in the Kava industry around the South Pacific, and will be held in Vanuatu.

The conference is part of ongoing efforts by the Embassy of Vanuatu in Brussels to ease kava back into the EU market environment, following the bans and uncertainties between 2002 and 2014 (which have since been overturned).

The conference will back up the work done on the EU-commissioned Kava Study, which was conducted throughout 2015. This has helped to establish a recognised and systematic international and science-based Kava standard for the first time.

New laws and regulations in the Kava industry are getting closer. But at Taki Mai, we took matters into our own hands a while ago by establishing our own elite kava nurseries on Ovalau; and we exclusively use only the highest quality kava in our shots, powder, and tablets.

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.

1 2
‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards
Milestone Reached In Creating A Regional Kava Standard
What Factors Affect Kava Quality?
International Kava Conference Planned for March
Kava in 2016: Higher Demand, Higher Quality