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By Zane Yoshida

Fiji Kava Manual: The Way Ahead for the Kava Industry

The regional kava industry has been through some tough times but things are looking up in Fiji and beyond. The Fiji Kava Manual is an initiative to spread the word about high-quality kava farming practices that will help protect the industry well into the future…

After losing an estimated one hundred and thirteen million dollars due to Tropical Cyclone Winston last year, the kava industry in Fiji is at the start of a slow recovery process.  New plants will take a few years to mature, so supplies are not likely to reach pre-Winston levels for some time.

However, the National Fijian Quality Standard for kava was developed to set minimum standards for kava exports; and recent initiatives between the Pacific Community, government, and industry stakeholders are looking to ensure that the good name of kava is protected into the foreseeable future.

I was especially proud to attend the Kava National Training Workshop in Suva recently; this was a ‘train the trainer’ workshop aimed at demonstrating how farmers in each region of the country can improve the quality and standard of the kava they grow.

It was led by the Pacific Agriculture Policy Project Team Leader, Vili Caniogo, who said that it was important to familiarise trainers with the new Fiji Kava Manual. This will help provide awareness of the minimum standards of kava crop varieties.

Fiji National Yaqona Association president, Kini Salabogi, noted that the farmers themselves were usually left out of the training and development of kava farms. The theory is often not carried out in practice on the farms, so the new training and kava manual initiatives hope to address that problem.

Fiji is considered to be ‘lucky’ in that the 13 varieties of kava grown on the islands are all safe to consume. In Vanuatu, however, there are some sub-standard varieties considered unsafe to drink.

A statement released by the Yaqona taskforce (pictured above) overseeing these recent developments in the Fijian kava industry said:

“Much is known about how the kava export industry was plagued by health and product safety concerns in the past, particularly in the mid-late nineties. An underlying threat to these concerns was the lack of quality standards, lack of testing and traceability as well as awareness as to what kava varieties were being exported and consumed.”

“This is a solid platform for kava farmers in Fiji and more assistance is required to ensure that this effort is built on and sustained.”

It is hoped that, by the end of this year, all kava farmers across Fiji are using the new quality standards of planting, handling, processing and testing of kava products.

 

By Zane Yoshida

The Kava Industry Is Islands Business!

The November issue of Islands Business features guess who on the front?

We’re proud to see Taki Mai front and centre – a testament to all the hard work put in by our team over the past few years. It’s wonderful that we are receiving recognition not only within the local kava industry, but nationally and internationally too.

You may have read my recent blog post about our partnership with Applied Food Sciences in the States. This was reported in the Fiji Times recently too.

And no sooner has that been announced than we get the front cover and a great spread in the premier business publication in the Pacific Islands region. Things are really moving forward at great speed, finally…

The Islands Business article

Islands Business was established more than 30 years ago and has experienced correspondents based in all the major Pacific Islands nations. It is distributed throughout the islands, as well as to subscribers in Australia, New Zealand, US, UK, Southeast Asia, and Japan.

This prestigious magazine features a detailed article in the November issue on the future of kava and the influence that South Pacific Elixirs (that’s us, folks!) is having on the regional kava industry.

It opens by saying that “an ancient crop is emerging as a game changer for island economies”. This echoes what the Fijian government and everyone involved closely with the kava industry has started to recognise in recent years, as the industry repairs its name following the European ban.

It covers how we have helped bring together other island nations to create a regional kava standard endorsed by the Codex Commission in Rome, which will help protect the future of the regional kava industry.

It talks of tens of millions of dollars of potential revenue for the Pacific producing nations – especially Fiji and Vanuatu. Fiji has also taken the initiative itself in creating the Kava Bill.

The article also covers how ‘unclean’, poor quality kava has created problems in the past and how the island of Ovalau, where our Taki Mai nursery, farms, and production facility are all based, is leading the way in Fiji and slowly becoming the country’s kava centre.

Finally, it covers how the threats of stricter regulations and bans in Australia can be thwarted by the proposed kava standard receiving international recognition through the Codex Commission. It considers how this will be the ‘crowning glory’ for kava, opening up export markets around the world and changing the lives of thousands of farmers across the region.

Thank you Islands Business for making kava and Taki Mai part of your business!

By Zane Yoshida

Lessons in Processing Kava

Have you ever wondered what goes into processing kava? How one of those beautifully green, leafy, kava plants is turned into that Taki Mai shot in your hands?

How is all the goodness and taste extracted safely and delivered to you in a way that you enjoy it practically anywhere and at anytime?

Any why is it brown and muddy-looking rather than green?

Wonder no longer.

This Talk Business video from Fijian TV explains what happens when processing kava – from the farms and nurseries through to being ready for export and sitting on US supermarket shelves.

You may be a little surprised about the parts of the plant we use – and what is discarded.

Zane and the team explain all you need to know…

By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Tea: Closer Than Kava and Beer?

Following on from our recent post about whether kava is a safe alternative to alcohol, we ask the question whether it would be more accurate to compare kava to a cup of tea than a beer or a glass of wine?

The similarities and differences between alcohol and kava were discussed at length in that article. So you know by now that kava is often drunk by people who want to relax or wind down, that there are health-giving properties attached to it, that there are very few after-effects of drinking it, and that it is associated with calm behaviour.

Couldn’t that equally be applied to tea drinking? Or perhaps a cup of coffee? More so than drinking alcohol, which can have the opposite effect and certainly has few health benefits?

An SBS report on kava culture in Australia referred to kava as ‘much like a cup of tea or coffee’ in Pacific Islander culture.

“Kava comes from the root of a pepper plant. It has a distinctive taste and a relaxing and slightly numbing effect. Pacific islanders enjoy sharing kava, much like a cup of tea or coffee in other cultures, but it is drunk in much larger quantities for the effect.”

Tea and coffee culture

As you can see from the image above, a traditional tea ceremony in China or Japan has many similarities to a traditional kava ceremony.

There is much emphasis on ceremony and community, with a specific way of sitting, pouring the tea, and drinking it. Cupping the bowl with both hands is just how Fijians cup the coconut shell full of kava.

You can still see the communal element of tea drinking today in much of Asia, with India, China, and Japan having large numbers of tea drinkers, as well as in the Middle East and in countries like Turkey.

In the west, the English are known for their insatiable tea-drinking appetite. Again it is a very social and hospitable drink, with the offer of a “nice cup of tea” never too far away in an English home. A family will sit around sipping tea with guests and chatting.

A coffee culture also exists in many places around the world, such as Italy, France, Brazil, parts of south-east Asia and Africa, and Australia. Again, coffee-drinking is frequently a communal experience, with a chat over a coffee a common way for people to catch up with each other.

There must be something about the mildly narcotic effects of caffeine and kavalactones that gets people talking and being more sociable!

Safety and health benefits of kava and tea/coffee

The above-mentioned SBS article refers to kava as a “health supplement for export”. The health benefits of kava are briefly discussed in the article, where our very own Zane Yoshida (founder of Taki Mai) has this to say:

“I’ve developed a kava supplement that I currently sell in the United States and Fiji through the natural food channels. This produce here is a kava supplement for taking the edge off, for relaxing,”

“As we progress with clinical trials here in Australia, we’d like to make structure function claims for relieving stress and anxiety.”

The health benefits of tea and coffee, on the other hand, are discussed in this Harvard Medical School article:

“Tea, especially green tea, is often said to be good for your health. Tea contains substances linked to a lower risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes“

“The main health-promoting substances in tea are polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. Lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Harvard-led studies of large groups of people over time have found that tea or coffee drinkers are at lower risk for diabetes and possibly cardiovascular disease. Coffee also contains polyphenols.”

Kava, tea and coffee could all be classed as minor narcotics for the compounds they contain. But all are widely drunk in different parts of the world as part of a communal experience; and not only are they considered safe, many consider them health-enhancing.

That is why, if you want to draw comparisons between kava and another common drink, then coffee or tea may be a more likely candidate than beer, whisky or wine.

By Zane Yoshida

Is Kava a Safe Alternative to Alcohol?

During a recent debate about kava safety in Australia, Zane Yoshida, founder of Taki Mai, said:

“We definitely deserve to have kava as part of our traditional cultural practices, even in Australia…If anything, it has been a positive influence on the Fijian community, even the youth in Australia, as an alternative to alcohol.”

If the subject of kava safety crops up in the media, a debate about whether kava is a safe alternative to alcohol is usually not far away. But is this claim true?

Earlier this year in Australia, there were claims that organised gangs of Tongans were smuggling kava into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, where alcohol is banned. The federal government was even considering a ban on the kava in Australia, but fortunately this never happened.

The authorities have hopefully woken up to the fact that banning a natural product that does a lot of good in the community wasn’t the way to address the small amount of problems it causes amongst people who use it irresponsibly.  An immediate comparison with the problems that alcohol causes would show the absurdity of banning it.

Nobody would consider banning over-the-counter pain relievers because a few people misuse them and take an overdose, would they?

Imagine if a study was done to compare the relative health effects of kava against alcohol: the pros and the cons. Which do you think would come out on top?

Similarities between kava and alcohol

There are some similarities between the two substances that often lead to the question of whether kava can serve as a good replacement for alcohol.

Firstly they are both social drinks. Whereas many westerners indulge in alcoholic drinks at social gatherings, South Pacific islanders will generally gather around the kava bowl, and share thoughts, have discussions, and make decisions.

Both kava and alcohol are often taken by people who want to relax and unwind – such as after a hard day’s work, or at the weekend; both can lead to improved mood, initial feelings of euphoria, easing of tension, encouragement to “open up”, lose one’s inhibitions or shyness, and be more social.

There are also a few basic safety measures that need applying when people drink kava or alcohol. In the case of kava, the average dose found in a kava shot or supplement will not impact mental clarity or judgment; it will just make you feel relaxed. But there have been cases where driving under the influence of large doses of kava has been a safety risk. It is therefore recommended not to drive or operate heavy machinery when indulging in a lengthy kava session.

Drinking BOTH kava and alcohol and then driving is a definite no-no – as this report from New Zealand points out.

Of course, we should all know by now the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol – and the problem around the world is not merely with ‘isolated cases’; it is a major killer.

Both alcohol and kava metabolise in the liver, meaning that it should not be drunk together for fear of putting too much strain on the liver; but unless you drink a large quantity of kava, or take supplements that mix other chemicals or parts of the kava plant other than the root, the liver should be able to handle it just fine.

With alcohol too, in most healthy people the liver is extremely efficient in dealing with alcohol; but serious health problems can result from excessive consumption.

Key differences between kava and alcohol

It is said that “hate cannot exist where kava is”. While this is, of course, an idyllic view, there is a definite peaceful air around the kava bowl. That is why kava is still brought out in the South Pacific to help solve feuds between two “warring” parties. It is a peace offering and the feelings it generates are ones of relaxation, serenity, and calmness.

When drank in the traditional way, kava produces a mild calming and relaxing effect that helps bonding in social situations and family get-togethers, without affecting mental clarity.

Compare that with an average Saturday night in your local pub, bar, or club. It’s many things, but I’d bet that it’s neither serene nor calm. We have probably all seen how alcohol can lead to potentially aggressive situations as people become bolder when they have had a few drinks.

That’s not to say that the excessive kava use doesn’t lead to problems (associated relationship and family problems can result) but these are much rarer than with alcohol-associated problems.

The physical effects of taking alcohol include a reduced attention span and reaction times and, in more extreme cases, a loss of memory or comprehension, vomiting, and a loss of balance. A few reports suggest that red wine used in moderation can be beneficial for health, but in truth there is little literature extolling the health benefits of alcohol.

Also, alcohol-related diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis account for high numbers of deaths globally. According to the Lancet medical journal, alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack. The WHO’s Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 states the following:

“Globally, harmful use of alcohol causes approximately 3.3 million deaths every year (or 5.9% of all deaths), and 5.1% of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol consumption.

With kava, numbness of the lips and tongue results after drinking it and, when consumed in large amounts, pupil dilation, bloodshot eyes, and loss of appetite can result; but it is unlikely you will ever drink enough kava to produce this effect.

The kavalactones present in kava root are a confirmed short-term reliever of stress and anxiety and kava is frequently used in alternative medicine.

Another area of difference between alcohol and kava is in the after-effects. Alcohol “hangovers” caused by dehydration can be severe; headache, fever, vomiting and other stomach upsets are quite common. Prolonged usage of kava may make you feel a bit “hazy” the next day but it does not result in any of the severe symptoms of an alcohol hangover.

Insurance companies starting to endorse kava again

Yourlifesolution.com, a US-based insurance agency last year endorsed kava as a safe alternative to alcohol. With insurance companies tending to steer clear of kava, following the European ban a while back, this is another welcome step to bring the kava industry back to its rightful place.

It’s best to judge for yourself whether kava is a good substitute for alcohol; try it and see if you like the flavours and the effects –it can be an acquired taste, but do you remember your first taste of alcohol?

 

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Fiji Kava Manual: The Way Ahead for the Kava Industry
The Kava Industry Is Islands Business!
Lessons in Processing Kava
Kava and Tea: Closer Than Kava and Beer?
Is Kava a Safe Alternative to Alcohol?