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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.

Fijian Kava Industry Suffering: Post-Winston Update
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