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.